Can You Take Melatonin While Pregnant?
If you’re desperate to clock more zzz’s during pregnancy, know that you’re not alone. Ask a pregnant person—any pregnant person!—and they’ll tell you that the struggle is real when it comes to trouble sleeping. Heartburn, leg cramps, frequent urination and general discomfort are just a few of the issues that can keep you from getting quality shut-eye. It’s no wonder if you’re considering turning to melatonin for some help in the snooze department. Many people swear by the supplement form of this natural sleep-promoting hormone. It can help regulate your internal clock and make your sleep cycle more predictable. But can you take melatonin while pregnant? Is it safe—and are there potential benefits or risks? Suffice it to say, the answers to these questions are murky at best, which is why most doctors recommend avoiding the supplement as a precaution. Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering taking melatonin during pregnancy.
It’s important to point out that melatonin is a hormone that your body naturally produces, even during pregnancy; the placenta makes it, so it’s ever present in your system, as noted by the journal Human Reproduction Update. But in terms of popping a supplement form of this hormone, can you take melatonin while pregnant—and is it safe?
The frustrating reality is that there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not it’s safe to take melatonin while pregnant. “We know that melatonin crosses the placenta and can enter the fetus’ bloodstream,” says Pieter Cohen, MD, a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. “It appears safe, but it hasn’t been carefully studied.” That goes for melatonin gummies, dissolvables and capsules designed to be swallowed.
Even at low doses, there’s a chance that melatonin exposure could have subtle effects on baby’s hormonal signal development, Cohen notes. And higher doses could be even more problematic. “We know that children can become overly sedated by excessive melatonin, but what effect excessive melatonin would have on the [baby in utero] isn’t known,” Cohen says. What’s more, even if you pluck the lowest dose off your pharmacy shelf, there are no guarantees. Supplement dosage isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so you can never know exactly how much you’re taking. In fact, research has found that melatonin labeling isn’t always accurate, and that the dose listed on the bottle might not represent the actual amount of melatonin in the pills.
Can you take melatonin in the first trimester?
Although there’s little evidence of harm linked to melatonin exposure in the first trimester, there may be unknown risks, says Renita White, MD, an ob-gyn in Atlanta. Again, the research just doesn’t exist. She advises against taking melatonin in all three trimesters, and instead opting for medications or lifestyle changes that have been proven to be safe during pregnancy.
So what if you took melatonin before you learned you were pregnant? Don’t sweat it. White says there’s no reason to lose (more) sleep over an accidental melatonin exposure during the early days of pregnancy, when you didn’t know you had a baby on board.
While melatonin is not recommended during pregnancy because of the unknown risks, there is a flip side to the argument. Promising animal research suggests that melatonin supplementation during pregnancy could potentially decrease the risk of preeclampsia, preterm birth and intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). Moreover, melatonin during pregnancy may have neuroprotective qualities. Of course, more studies are needed.
Interestingly, evolving research also suggests that melatonin’s role in circadian rhythm regulation may improve outcomes in couples facing infertility. That said, there’s no confirming proof that taking melatonin during pregnancy delivers unique benefits beyond sleep support, White says.
If you’re desperate for sleep but want to avoid melatonin in pregnancy, know that there are plenty of safe alternatives to try. With your doctor’s sign-off, you can take an antihistamine like doxylamine (Unisom) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl). “Both are proven to be safe in pregnancy and can help with sleep,” says White.
Of course, you can also take some steps to improve your sleep hygiene. Here are some things White suggests doing to encourage more restful nights:
- Avoid screens during the last half hour before you turn in
- Keep the lights low during your bedtime routine
- Try bedtime meditation
- Get exercise earlier in the day
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule
If the above options don’t work, try to remember that this phase of restlessness will pass—eventually (and just in time for a nocturnal newborn to join your family). Tempting as it may be to try melatonin in pregnancy, experts feel it’s just not worth it. As Cohen says, “The very marginal potential benefits do not, in my opinion, outweigh the potential risks.”
About the experts:
Pieter Cohen, MD, is a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He earned his medical degree from Yale School of Medicine.
Renita White, MD, is an ob-gyn based in Atlanta. She earned her medical degree at the Ohio State University.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.