Many people find that melatonin supplements help relieve periodic insomnia. However, researchers have not yet determined the effects of this supplement during pregnancy.
Evidence suggests that supplementary melatonin may help resolve difficulty sleeping, though there has not been adequate research into the supplement’s long-term use.
Similarly, there has been too little research into the effects of supplementary melatonin during pregnancy to conclude that it is safe, though some studies suggest that it may benefit the developing fetus.
In this article, learn more about the potential effects of melatonin during pregnancy, including the risks, possible benefits, and alternatives.
Few studies have directly assessed the benefits or risks of taking melatonin during pregnancy. Until there is more evidence, it is impossible to know whether a pregnant woman can safely use the supplement.
Because other interventions, such as therapy and improving sleep habits, are safe and can be effective, most doctors recommend trying these first.
Some research suggests that melatonin plays a role in fetal development and that melatonin supplementation may improve pregnancy outcomes.
The studies included in the review have found no evidence that melatonin is unsafe. However, they have not tested melatonin supplements as a treatment for sleep issues, specifically.
The main potential benefit of melatonin during pregnancy is that it may improve sleep.
Also, some studies have shown that melatonin may improve pregnancy outcomes. For example:
- A 2015 study in pregnant mice found that melatonin injections might reduce the risk of neural tube abnormalities.
- A 2011 review reports evidence from several studies that short-term melatonin use may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications.
- Some researchers theorize that melatonin supplements could improve outcomes of artificial reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization. However, more research is necessary.
- The authors of a 2014 review found that melatonin may protect fetal brain development but do not recommend the supplement during pregnancy due to the lack of research into its safety.
Poor sleep during pregnancy may increase health risks to the woman and baby. For example, poor sleep may correlate with longer labor, though it is unclear whether insomnia or underlying emotional distress is responsible for the association.
Women with insomnia during pregnancy may also have a higher risk of mental health conditions, including anxiety and postpartum depression.
If a woman takes melatonin during pregnancy and it improves her sleep, this may reduce stress and improve pregnancy outcomes.
Due to a lack of research, doctors have not identified specific risks or side effects of using melatonin during pregnancy.
Assessing the effects of substances in pregnant women and fetuses can be challenging because of ethical concerns. If there are adverse effects, the researchers could be liable.
However, researchers have identified possible adverse effects of melatonin among the general population, including:
- allergic reactions
- interactions with medications, including supplements and prescription medicines
- daytime drowsiness, especially in older adults
Also, because melatonin is a supplement and not a prescription drug, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not regulate it. This means that melatonin supplements may contain ingredients that are not on their labels, and these can have additional effects.
Overall, it is important to note that doctors do not know the long-term effects of melatonin use.
Most guidelines recommend that a dose for adults be between 0.2 and 5.0 milligrams. A person should take this about 1 hour before bedtime. Children should take significantly less.
It is safest to start with the lowest dose and gradually increase it as necessary. Stop using melatonin as soon as the sleep issues resolve.
However, because the effects of melatonin during pregnancy are unknown, a pregnant woman should consult a doctor or midwife before taking the supplement. Try other interventions first, especially lifestyle strategies.
While some doctors prescribe sleeping pills to pregnant women, certain drugs may increase risks to the fetus. In some cases, there is not enough data to know whether a drug is safe.
To relieve insomnia during pregnancy, try to improve the sleeping environment and practice good sleep hygiene by:
- going to bed and waking up at the same times
- using a pregnancy pillow for support
- sleeping in a dark, cool room without television or computer screens
- exercising during the day
- avoiding caffeine in the afternoons and evenings
Identifying the causes of insomnia can also be helpful. For example, some pregnant women experience restless legs syndrome, and treating this may aid sleep.
Sleep apnea can also cause insomnia. Changes in sleeping position and the use of a continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, machine may ease symptoms.
The following may also help encourage sleep:
- relaxation exercises
- progressive muscle relaxation at bedtime
- therapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia
Talk to a doctor about the risks and possible benefits of other interventions. If using sleep medication during pregnancy, it is important to do so for the shortest effective period.
Sleep issues during pregnancy can be frustrating, affecting a woman’s health, well-being, relationships, and ability to focus.
Pregnant women should take insomnia seriously and consult with healthcare providers who are willing to explore various options.
While melatonin can be an effective sleep aid, there is not enough research to support its routine use during pregnancy.
Studies that have looked into melatonin use during pregnancy have not consistently found evidence of specific risks, but they have also not proven its safety.
A doctor who is knowledgeable about supplements can help a woman decide whether to use melatonin during pregnancy.