Are you tossing and turning at night now that your belly is getting bigger? Are you looking for a way to get some sleep?
Sleeping troubles are common among expectant mothers. Your growing belly might cause discomfort. You might also have insomnia due to the excitement and anxiety having a baby can bring — especially if it’s your first!
That’s where melatonin supplements can come in. They are a popular sleep aid, often chosen because melatonin is a hormone our bodies make naturally. But is it safe to take melatonin while pregnant?
What Is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a natural hormone made in the pineal gland — a little pea-sized gland in the brain. It’s the hormone that tells us when to sleep and when to wake up. As a supplement, it comes in pills, liquids, and chewables.
Although our bodies produce it naturally, the proverbial jury’s out on whether taking melatonin supplements is safe during pregnancy.
One study showed melatonin supplements caused low maternal weight gain, low baby weight, and increased infant mortality when given to rats during pregnancy (1). But another showed that taking melatonin during pregnancy can decrease your risk of pre-eclampsia and intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) (2).
Melatonin is not regarded as a drug or hormone, so the FDA does not regulate it. The quantity of melatonin in its over-the-counter form exceeds the natural amount produced by our bodies by 20 times, which is why we see more harm than good with this supplement.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
Does Melatonin Have Any Side Effects?
Taking melatonin supplements may cause the following side effects:
- Abnormal heartbeat.
- Abdominal cramps.
- Accelerated heart rate.
- Bad dreams.
- Changes to your appetite.
- Chest pain.
- Feeling extremely hot or cold.
- Memory loss.
- Mood changes.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Your doctor may check your hormone levels if you’re taking melatonin. This can determine whether the symptoms you’re experiencing are from melatonin or pregnancy itself.
You may want to avoid taking melatonin if you have any of the following conditions:
- Bleeding disorders: If you have a bleeding disorder, such as Von Willebrand’s disease or hemophilia, melatonin might cause you to bleed more.
- Epilepsy: In patients with epilepsy, melatonin can increase the risk of a seizure.
- Depression: Melatonin can counteract the effects of antidepressants and stimulants, making depression worse.
- If you are a transplant recipient: Melatonin can help build your immune system and possibly interfere with immunosuppressants given to transplant patients.
- Diabetes: Melatonin may increase blood sugar levels.
High blood pressure: Melatonin has a risk of increasing blood pressure.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before taking melatonin, especially during pregnancy.
One of the dangers of melatonin that tends to be overlooked is that it can easily interact with other medications, such as blood thinners and medications for diabetes, which can lead to serious harm.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
Alternatives to Melatonin
There are several natural alternatives to melatonin that can help you get better sleep.
1. Get a Massage
Massage has long been considered an alternative form of medicine that can help with the aches and pains of pregnancy.
When seeking a professional masseuse, it’s important to look for someone experienced in prenatal massage. They’ll know which areas need work and which spots to avoid. Alternatively, all you need is a pair of loving hands. Ask your partner to give you a nice foot or back rub at the end of the day to help you relax. Make sure to steer clear of regularly using certain essential oils that can be harmful during pregnancy, such as cinnamon, basil, and sage.
2. Drink Chamomile
Chamomile tea has been used for its health benefits since the time of Ancient Egypt. It can help with sleep and relaxation, has antioxidant properties, and contains anti-inflammatories (3).
While chamomile tea is generally safe for most pregnant women, it’s important you speak with your doctor before using it. The anti-inflammatories it contains can react negatively with certain conditions and medications.
We recommend an organic brand to sip as part of your nighttime ritual.
3. Start a Bedtime Routine
Just as babies benefit from a solid nighttime routine once they’re born, a bedtime routine can pave your way to a more peaceful rest. Experts at Harvard say a solid bedtime routine is vital for both children and adults to get a good night’s sleep (4).
A routine can be as simple as washing your face, brushing your teeth, and laying down at the same time each night. You can also add more elements to suit your preferences.
You may include some of the following in your routine:
- Taking a warm bath.
- Moisturizing with a soothing lotion, especially lavender.
- Listening to relaxing music.
- Wearing an eye mask or earplugs to block out unwanted noise.
Doing the same thing in the same order each night regulates your internal clock. It lets your body know when it’s time to start preparing for bed. Eventually, this will help you fall asleep faster and sleep better.
If you cannot fall asleep, try to get up and do other activities until you feel tired enough to go back to bed and fall asleep.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
4. Cut Out Screen Time
Watching television right before bed — or worse, falling asleep in front of the TV — can cause problems when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. The blue light from the television screen can disrupt your body’s natural sleep cycle. The same goes for computers and cell phones.
Because of this, experts recommend you turn off all screens and devices about 30 minutes before it’s time for sleep.
5. Keep Your Sleep Space Serene
My mom always used to tell me that a clean home is a happy home. While I hated hearing this at 10 years old, as an adult, it has turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice she gave me.
Having a clean room makes people less stressed and more content.
One study even showed that people who make their bed each morning were 19% more likely to sleep soundly (5).
- Keep your bedroom dark: Invest in blackout curtains to block ambient light.
- Enjoy the sound of silence: Use a white noise machine to drown out distractions.
- Make your bed blissful: Try some soft new sheets or pajamas for added comfort.
6. Avoid Caffeine
We all know caffeine can drastically affect our ability to fall asleep. Less known is that the effects can last for hours. Even though it’s a great morning boost, sipping a coffee or soda in the late afternoon might have you wide awake in the middle of the night.
Try decaf or herbal teas as a delicious alternative. But be careful as decaf is not 100% caffeine-free; it’s just much lower in caffeine.
What’s more, when you exercise, your body temperature increases. This is great because the temperature drop after exercising can promote sleepiness.
One study showed that people who exercised consistently for 4 to 24 weeks reported falling asleep faster, having higher quality rest, and being able to sleep longer than before they started exercising (7).
These are some great exercises for expecting mothers:
- Indoor cycling.
Many other exercises can also be done — with a few modifications. Look for prenatal fitness classes in your area, and get moving!
We should also note that some patients suffer from restless leg syndrome or leg cramps, especially at night. This can be due to a lack of certain supplements such as magnesium and calcium. Speak to your doctor if these cramps are keeping you from a goodnight’s sleep.
It can also be helpful to cut down on naps taken during the day, although we know this might be difficult during pregnancy.
The Bottom Line
Between physical changes and the emotional turbulence of pregnancy, we know it can be hard to get some sleep. It might be tempting to take the advice of a friend, family member, or co-worker and take melatonin.
But remember that melatonin, like many other things, comes with its own set of risks and side effects. You can first try alternatives such as massage or exercise to help you get a better sleep. If you still find yourself struggling, talk to your doctor.