Is it safe to take herbal sleep remedies while I'm pregnant or nursing?

Is it safe to take herbal sleep remedies while I'm pregnant or nursing?

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No, not without the guidance of a knowledgeable healthcare provider. There are dozens of herbal products that are said to help you sleep, but most of them haven't been studied to find out whether they're safe to use while pregnant or breastfeeding.

It's easy to assume that herbs are safe to use because they're "natural." But herbs can be as powerful as some over-the-counter or prescription drugs – and some are even potentially toxic. Herbal remedies aren't regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so there's no oversight of what's contained within any herbal supplement you might purchase, and all the ingredients might not be listed on the label.

Only a very few natural sleep remedies can be considered relatively safe in pregnancy or while nursing: ginseng, honey, nutmeg, and oats. But very little information is available even for these. There are many other herbal products that might be okay to use, but there's no information about their effects during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Here are some herbs that you should definitely not use if you're pregnant or nursing because they may be dangerous for you or your baby: American hellebore, kava kava, marijuana, mugwort, passion flower, Petasites, Rauwolfia, Siberian ginseng, taumelloolch, tulip tree, and valerian. It's not known whether St. John's wort is safe during pregnancy, but you should avoid it when breastfeeding.

Melatonin – often sold as a sleep aid – is a hormone, not an herbal remedy. The effects of melatonin on pregnancy and a developing baby aren't known, so it's best to avoid using it during pregnancy and breastfeeding (melatonin is secreted in breast milk).

If you do decide to take herbal remedies, consult your healthcare provider before taking anything, either on its own or in combination with other herbs or medications. That precaution includes herbal tea.

Also, since the quality of herbs varies by manufacturer, ask an expert such as a doctor, pharmacist, or naturopath to recommend a specific brand if your caregiver gives the go-ahead to try a particular herbal sleep remedy.


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