science

Melatonin during Pregnancy | Does it Work and is it Safe?

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS

4 min read

woman in dress touching her pregnant belly in a wheat field behind her

Sleep problems are very common during pregnancy. More research is needed to determine whether melatonin is a safe treatment for pregnant people.

Is it safe for me to take melatonin while pregnant?

The research

If you’re pregnant, maybe you’ve noticed that you’re having some difficulty with sleeping. According to the research, you’re far from alone. More than 72% of pregnant people experience waking up frequently throughout the night. By the third trimester, 97% of pregnant people end up experiencing sleep pattern disruptions.

So, naturally, you might wonder what can be done about this. Sleep is crucial to your overall health. Could a melatonin supplement be part of the solution?

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in your brain, and it helps you get to sleep. Melatonin supplements are a common and effective method for people experiencing sleep problems, including jet lag and disruptions to your circadian rhythm. When it comes to pregnancy, though, the research is somewhat limited.

Early animal studies led some to raise concerns about using melatonin during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Contrary to what animal studies have indicated, a review of fifteen clinical studies mentions that melatonin was used in pregnant or breastfeeding humans. Ultimately, additional research needs to be conducted. With that being said, consider talking to a doctor before commencing with any new supplement routine, especially while pregnant.

Pregnancy and sleep issues

Sleep issues are incredibly common during pregnancy – so much so that it would actually be unusual if you were pregnant and didn’t have some sleep issues. As mentioned above, disrupted sleep affects up to 97% of women by the third trimester. These sleep problems are caused by the hormonal, physiological, and physical changes that a person experiences during pregnancy.

Sleep, as you well know, is important for everyone’s health. Lack of sleep can lead to a host of health problems, including drowsiness, irritability, and reduced immune function. For a pregnant person, getting good sleep can be especially important, as more and more is being asked of your body. Finding a way to get good sleep is a way to care for yourself and to care for the health of the child growing inside you.

Pregnancy and melatonin levels

Studies show that melatonin levels rise naturally around 24 weeks of pregnancy and then again around 32 weeks of pregnancy. Since a human’s pineal gland – the part of the brain that produces melatonin – doesn’t develop until after birth, your unborn child relies on the melatonin that your body is producing. Indeed, melatonin receptors are present in the embryo and fetus from the early stages of pregnancy. It is probable that your melatonin supply helps develop your unborn child’s circadian rhythm, as well as affecting the fetus’s neurological development generally.

Since melatonin levels tend to rise naturally throughout pregnancy, it’s possible that a melatonin supplement would result in your body having too much melatonin.

Talking to your doctor about melatonin and sleep during pregnancy

It’s important to talk to your doctor before deciding to take a melatonin supplement during pregnancy. Your doctor can help you think through your sleep problems and prevent you from exposing yourself or your unborn baby to any potential harm.

What if I took melatonin before I realized I was pregnant?

If you’ve been taking a melatonin supplement and then you discover you’re pregnant, you likely have no cause for concern. A review of fifteen studies found that melatonin use during pregnancy is probably safe for humans. Once you know you’re pregnant, though, consider discontinuing the supplement until you talk to a doctor. While more clinical studies are on the way for pregnant people, for now there is a lack of sufficient research.

Alternatives to melatonin during pregnancy

There are some over the counter sleep aids that have been deemed safe for pregnant people. Talk to your health care provider to figure out the best option to ensure the safety of you and your baby.

Other ways to address poor sleep during pregnancy

Fortunately, there are some additional steps you can take to improve your sleep during pregnancy. A systematic review of sleep studies found limited that the following approaches could help improve sleep during pregnancy:

  • Acupuncture
  • Mindfulness and yoga
  • Herbal medication
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Relaxation

Another strategy that could work is simply changing your sleep position. Sleeping on your side is generally recommended during pregnancy – and you can’t go wrong incorporating more blankets and pillows for support.

Then, of course, there are sleep hygiene tips that are beneficial for everyone, pregnant and otherwise. You can consider decreasing your screen time before bed, cutting back on caffeine, budgeting time for winding down at night, dimming your lights, and keeping your routine consistent. These steps can help your body know when it’s time to get a night’s rest.

Key takeaways

Sleep is important to your health, especially during pregnancy. Melatonin could be part of helping you get better sleep, but more research is needed. Check with a doctor before starting a melatonin supplement. Even if you don’t take melatonin, there are other strategies that can help you get much-needed sleep.

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