For any new parent, that first year of life is challenging. You’re spending your days and nights according to the baby’s schedule, which is disruptive to your own sleep needs. “I’m only half-joking when I tell new moms that they won’t sleep for the next year,” Dr. Barbara McLaren, board-certified OB-GYN and co-founder of Kushae feminine wellness products, tells Scary Mommy. If you suffered from sleepless nights pre-baby, then you probably counted on melatonin to help you catch some much-needed ZZZs — and you probably assumed you’d continue taking it after baby was born. But now that your little one is here and your protective-bordering-on-paranoid maternal instincts have kicked in, you may wonder, Can you take melatonin while breastfeeding?
Sleep is elusive as a new parent, but if you’re able to take a nap while your little one sleeps, then you’ll want all the reinforcements you can get. However, if you’re currently breastfeeding, there’s always the concern that you might pass on whatever you’re consuming to your baby through your milk. If you’re wondering if you can take melatonin while breastfeeding, read on for McLaren’s advice.
What is melatonin?
According to McLaren, melatonin is a hormone that is naturally secreted by the body to regulate sleep and keep your body on a 24-hour cycle, noting, “It is produced in the pineal gland in the brain and is released into the bloodstream to regulate the circadian rhythm. Melatonin levels are highest at night since it helps the body to sleep.” Melatonin can also be taken as a dietary supplement and is often utilized to improve sleep quality.
What is melatonin used for?
“There are times when our circadian rhythm may be disturbed, and sleep will be more difficult, such as jet lag, working third shift/night shift positions, or when you’re a new parent. Melatonin can help in these circumstances,” McLaren explains. “Melatonin as a dietary supplement often is taken by people seeking better, more restful, and restorative sleep. If patients are experiencing insomnia, I may suggest melatonin as an aid if the problem is severe and other natural ways of boosting your natural melatonin levels are unsuccessful.”
According to McLaren, other ways to boost your own natural melatonin secretion include getting morning sun exposure and avoiding watching television or cell phone blue light emission at night.
So, is melatonin safe to take while breastfeeding?
Not surprisingly, your body continues to secrete melatonin naturally throughout your pregnancy and after baby is born. “During pregnancy and delivery, melatonin is produced by the ovaries and the placenta. It works along with oxytocin to help labor and delivery,” McLaren explains. “It is produced by your body even when breastfeeding and is passed on to your baby through breast milk. Breast milk is best for your baby’s growth and development, and it is also good for their sleep.”
Melatonin that is produced naturally by your body passes on to your baby through breast milk. According to McLaren, it’s completely safe and helps babies to sleep: “Research suggests that melatonin levels are the highest at night and breast milk expressed at night has a higher concentration of natural melatonin.”
However, the research isn’t so cut and dry when it comes to taking a melatonin supplement. “Studies suggest that taking a melatonin supplement is safe for adults to take for a short-term period when you are not breastfeeding. But long-term effects on the baby are currently unknown,” McLaren says. She also points out that it’s not a particularly good idea to take melatonin when you’re breastfeeding since it could make you drowsy at a time when it’s important to be alert and present for your infant.
What are some alternatives that a mother might be able to use instead of melatonin?
McLaren recommends the following alternatives to melatonin that aid sleep: exercise and chamomile tea before bed, as well as modifications to your sleep environment like a cool temperature and minimal lighting, including blackout blinds, no screen time before bed, and avoiding turning on lights during the night if you wake. “Don’t underestimate the power of a nighttime routine with self-care rituals that help you wind down,” she emphasizes.
When can a mother start using melatonin again?
According to McLaren, long-term use of melatonin can resume once you’ve weaned baby from breastfeeding. “Be selective when it comes to choosing which supplement you purchase by reading the labels and choosing brands you trust, because dietary supplements are neither FDA approved nor regulated by the FDA,” she says. “It’s a wild, Wild West out there with supplements. While the melatonin in a supplement is unlikely to harm your baby in the short term through breastmilk, there may be other ingredients or substances in there that can secrete through breast milk to the baby.”
Knowing the purity and ingredients of your supplements is crucial, stresses McLaren, “Especially since so much of it comes down to our trust in certain brands and manufacturers. It’s always important to consult your doctor on the best supplements for your health.”