Can You Take Melatonin While Pregnant?

Young pregnant woman sleeping in the middle of the night. Nestled comfortably between pillows.

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You’re tossing and turning, lying awake half the night... and, oh yes, pregnant. Whether it's your constant leg cramps, nonstop indigestion, or panicked thoughts about your impending introduction to the wild world of parenting, you’re having a lot of trouble sleeping.

But what can you do about it? Your physical discomforts aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (and, come to think of it, neither is your anxiety). With so many OTC and prescription medications off-the-table during pregnancy, you might feel like going au natural with a sleep supplement like melatonin is your safest bet.

Not so fast, though. Just because it’s “natural,” doesn’t mean it’s safe. We asked experts to share what they know about melatonin use during pregnancy—and what else you can do to catch some quality sleep before the baby comes. 

Is Melatonin Safe During Pregnancy?

Since melatonin is an OTC supplement and not a “medication,” per se, many women think it must be safe to use during pregnancy. But melatonin is still an ingested drug—and one that increases your body’s natural hormone levels—so unfortunately this isn’t true. 

In fact, according to OBGYN Danielle Jones, MD, of Mama Doctor Jones, we don’t have any definitive answer about the supplement’s safety during pregnancy.

“There is currently minimal safety data available regarding the use of melatonin in pregnancy,” says Dr. Jones. “Although we don't have any data to suggest a clear evidence of harm, we also lack data to indicate that this supplement is safe.”

There’s also the issue of FDA regulation. Melatonin is a natural supplement, which means—like all other supplements—there is no central oversight to confirm the quality of the ingredients in varying brands. While that puts the general population at risk (you could be ingesting much more of a supplement than you intend to, or is considered safe), it’s an even greater risk for vulnerable pregnant women.

At the same time, melatonin is widely considered to be a safe drug with few side effects, and there are situations where melatonin could be considered safe during pregnancy, too.

“Short term use is likely relatively safe, especially after the first trimester,” says Lindsay Appel, MD, a Baltimore-area OBGYN. “In general, the lowest dose should be used over the lowest period of time to limit exposure to the growing pregnancy.”

Like most other supplements and medications used during pregnancy, moms-to-be should discuss the pros and cons with their doctor. Melatonin could be safer for you than alternative medications and your doctor may allow you to use it in a limited dosage.

On the other hand, your doctor may stress that it’s important to avoid melatonin completely depending on your specific circumstances.

Pregnancy-Safe Alternatives to Melatonin

Even if you can’t safely take melatonin, you don’t have to suffer through sleepless nights for nine months. If you’re having more than the average amount of difficulty sleeping during pregnancy and it's affecting your overall health, it may be wise to talk to your doctor about taking a different sleep aid. 

“Most obstetricians recommend diphenhydramine (Benadryl) as a first-line option... since we know more about the safety profile on this medication in regards to pregnancy,” says Dr. Jones.

Dr. Appel adds that doxylamine (often sold as Unisom), is also considered a safe option and that both medications can be used at their full dosage of 25 milligrams or even a half-dose, if the full amount isn’t needed.

Good Sleep Hygiene During Pregnancy

Dr. Appel reminds expectant mothers that there are a few non-pharmaceutical ways to manage sleeplessness and insomnia in pregnancy, most of which involve maintaining good sleep hygiene. You can do this by:

  • Sticking to a regular bedtime
  • Avoiding watching TV or using your phone in bed
  • Using a pregnancy pillow to increase comfort and support in bed
  • Practicing meditation or breathing exercises prior to bedtime 

Other Considerations

Even if your doctor approves infrequent use of melatonin during your pregnancy, says Dr. Appel, it’s important to figure out the root cause of your sleeplessness or insomnia rather than cover it up with sleep aids.

Common causes of sleep troubles in pregnancy include:

  • Physical discomfort (aches and pains, heartburn, restless legs)
  • Baby kicks and hiccups
  • Morning sickness (including all day and night sickness)
  • Stress and anxiety

In fact, stress and anxiety can be some of the most pressing causes of sleep disturbances and also not something you should ignore.

“Discuss any feelings of stress or anxiety with your physician so that you can both determine a management plan [for them], which may include relaxation exercises, an exercise routine, or outpatient therapy,” advises Dr. Appel. 

A Word From Verywell

If you use or are thinking about using melatonin as a sleep aid during pregnancy, it's best to speak to your doctor and get their professional recommendation. In some cases, they may suggest a safer alternative, or help you identify the reasons you're having trouble sleeping in the first place.

Between physical discomfort and increased stress, sleeping well during pregnancy isn't always easy, but your team of medical professionals can provide you with more information about treatment options and suggest lifestyle changes so you can get much-needed rest before the baby arrives.

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