Can you take melatonin while pregnant?


When you’re pregnant, it feels like your whole universe is shifting, doesn’t it? From the subtle stretch of your jeans to the undeniable craving for pickles at 3 AM, every day seems to bring a new surprise.

But there’s one aspect of this grand adventure that catches many expecting parents off guard—sleep. Oh yes, that elusive, precious commodity becomes a whole new ballgame when you’ve got a baby on the way.

As your pregnancy progresses, you might find yourself tossing and turning more and more. And while those pregnancy pillows offer a glimmer of hope, sometimes they’re just not enough to lull you into a deep sleep.

At this point, you might wonder if melatonin might help your sleep. Read on for an expert-backed guide to answer all your questions about taking melatonin during pregnancy, whether it’s safe, its alternatives, and tips on how to sleep better (without sleep aids).

What is melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone made by a tiny gland in your brain called the pineal gland. When the sun sets, and darkness falls, melatonin levels rise, giving your body the signal that it’s time to hit the hay.

It helps regulate your internal clock so you know when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. But when you’re pregnant, things get a bit more complicated. Let’s break down whether melatonin is safe to use during pregnancy.

Is it safe to take melatonin while pregnant?

Dr. Ila Dayananda, MD, OB-GYN and Chief Medical Officer at Oula Health, states that the safety of using melatonin during pregnancy is not definitively established. 

There are studies suggesting it may be safe to use in moderation and others cautioning against its use due to potential risks. I always recommend consulting with your doctor before trying or taking any new supplements.”

What happens to melatonin levels during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, melatonin levels undergo significant changes, reflecting the hormonal adaptations that support fetal development and prepare the body for motherhood.

According to a research study by Frontiers in Endocrinology, “Maternal melatonin production is higher in pregnant than in non-pregnant women, increases significantly during pregnancy with highest levels in the third trimester, and decreases abruptly after delivery.”

Here’s a breakdown of how melatonin levels typically behave during pregnancy:

  1. Increase in levels: Melatonin levels generally increase as pregnancy progresses. After the first trimester, these levels continue to rise, peaking in the third trimester. The increase is thought to be partly due to the higher demand for antioxidant protection for both the mother and the fetus, as melatonin is a potent antioxidant.
  2. Night-time concentrations: Specifically, night-time concentrations of melatonin become significantly higher after 24 weeks of gestation and are notably elevated after 32 weeks. This rise is important as it plays a role in modulating circadian rhythms and could potentially influence the sleep patterns of the pregnant woman.
  3. Role of the placenta: The placenta plays a crucial role in the metabolism and regulation of melatonin during pregnancy. It not only produces melatonin but also has receptors for it, indicating that melatonin is involved in the placenta’s functioning. Melatonin produced by the placenta is crucial for protecting fetal tissues from oxidative stress.
  4. Impact on fetal development: The fetus’s pineal gland is not fully developed and functional until after birth, so it depends on maternal melatonin, which crosses the placenta. This melatonin exposure is essential for properly developing circadian rhythms in the fetus.

The changes in melatonin levels are part of the body’s adaptation to pregnancy. They help regulate immune function, protect against cellular damage, and possibly play a role in the timing of labor.

How does taking melatonin during pregnancy impact the mom and the baby?

“Taking melatonin during pregnancy can impact both the mother and the baby, although we still don’t fully understand to what extent,” says Dr. Dayananda, “Some studies suggest potential risks, specifically disruptions to fetal development or changes in maternal hormone levels. Again, it’s crucial to consult your doctor to weigh the potential risks and benefits based on individual circumstances.”

How melatonin affects baby development in the womb

While one of the most common uses of melatonin is aiding us to fall asleep, there are some things you probably didn’t know about melatonin—that it plays a role in your baby’s development in the womb.

A study published in the Journal of Medicine and Life talks about the role of melatonin in embryo-fetal development. The research paper sheds light on melatonin’s important role in babies’ development before they are born.

Here are the most important takeaways from the study:

  1. Melatonin helps control sleep patterns, acts as an antioxidant (protecting cells from damage), and may even help prevent cancer. Even though a baby’s pineal gland isn’t fully developed until after birth, they get melatonin from their mother through the placenta.
  2. Melatonin is key for proper growth before birth. It sets up the body’s natural rhythms (like sleep cycles), helps the nervous and endocrine systems develop properly, and protects growing organs from damage caused by oxidative stress (harmful molecules).
  3. Melatonin levels in a mother’s body increase significantly after 24 weeks of pregnancy and even more after 32 weeks. This is a critical period for fetal development, and these high levels at night are important for the baby’s development during these stages.
  4. Melatonin is known to protect the brain and improve outcomes in pregnancies that might be at risk. However, if melatonin levels are disrupted, it could lead to problems with reproduction.

As seen in animal studies, melatonin might play a role in how genes work and protect the brain. More research is needed to ensure using melatonin doesn’t have unexpected harmful effects later in life.

Tips to get better sleep during pregnancy (without melatonin) 

Considering that much research needs to be done before we reach any conclusive answers on whether you can use melatonin during pregnancy, it’s natural to wonder if there are any alternatives to melatonin.

Dr. Dayananda states, “There are many natural alternatives to melatonin for getting a good night’s sleep. The most critical and organic solution is to keep good sleep hygiene, or in other words, to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.”

Here are some of Dr. Dayananda’s tips on alternatives to melatonin:

  • Avoid heavy meals for at least two to three hours before bed, and avoid caffeine.
  • Start getting comfy and winding down at least an hour before you plan to go to bed.
  • Start a practice of screen detox at least one to two hours before bed
  • Consider picking up some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or prenatal yoga to help improve sleep quality.
  • For an extra kick, discuss taking magnesium supplements with your doctor, as it plays a vital role in muscle and nerve function and can also contribute to relaxation and better sleep.

I think the most underrated sleep tip is to get consistent semi-vigorous exercise during daylight hours. Our bodies begin to crave sleep when we use them regularly to burn calories and strengthen our muscles. There’s nothing more satisfying than being exhausted and getting well-deserved rest from a hard day’s work.”

To further enhance your sleep during pregnancy, here are five more tips:

  1. Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps regulate your body’s internal clock.
  2. Create a comfortable sleep environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep—keep it cool, quiet, and dark. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows (including a pregnancy pillow to support your body).
  3. Use a good quality pregnancy pillow: A body pillow works by providing additional support to the body, particularly in the knees, hips, back, and stomach. There’s no right or wrong way to use a pregnancy pillow, but the type of pregnancy pillow you use can determine how to best use it. 
  4. Sleep on your side: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends side-sleeping for pregnant people because it avoids putting pressure on blood vessels that carry important oxygen and nutrients to the baby, so most pregnancy body pillows are designed to help a pregnant person sleep on their side.
  5. Limit liquid intake before bed: Reduce your fluid intake in the hours leading up to bedtime to minimize nighttime trips to the bathroom.
  6. Practice relaxation techniques: Try relaxation methods such as deep breathing, meditation, or gentle yoga to help calm your mind and body before bedtime.
  7. Establish a pre-sleep routine: Develop a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath, reading a book, or listening to soothing music to signal to your body that it’s time to wind down.


While melatonin is commonly used to improve sleep, its safety during pregnancy remains a topic for further research. As expectant mothers navigate the changes that pregnancy brings, it’s important to consider safe alternatives and adopt healthy sleep habits. Consulting with healthcare providers, practicing good sleep hygiene, and exploring natural remedies can all contribute to better sleep during this special time.

Remember, the key to a restful night isn’t just about one solution; it’s about creating a balanced routine that supports your and your baby’s health. So, before turning to melatonin, consider the many safe and effective strategies that can enhance your sleep during pregnancy.

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