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Ambien & Breastfeeding

author image Jordan Bucher
Jordan Bucher is a journalist in Austin, Texas who has been writing professionally since 1998. She is also an AFAA-trained group exercise instructor and a DONA-trained postpartum doula. She holds a BA in English from Carleton College and a certificate from The University of Denver Publishing Institute.
Ambien & Breastfeeding
Is ambien a safe option for nursing mothers? Photo Credit soirée pyjama 17 image by Nathalie P from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>

Ambien, generic name zolpidem, is a prescription sleep aid. Doctors prescribe Ambien for short-term use only, as it may contribute to depression, anxiety and dependency over the long-term. A lactating mother must also consider how the medication may affect her child as well as the severity of her insomnia. These are matters she should discuss with a doctor or alternative health care practitioner.

Causes of Insomnia

Once a woman gives birth, her progesterone and estrogen levels plummet and stay low for the duration of her nursing relationship. This enables milk production, according to the breastfeeding resource Kellymom.com, but it may also contribute to depression, anxiety and insomnia in some mothers. While breastfeeding triggers the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin, which contribute to feelings of well-being, the effect lasts only as long as the nursing session. Other mothers may find themselves consumed by the anxieties of early parenthood and therefore unable to sleep.

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A nursing mother needs to consider how much her insomnia interferes with her ability to function on a daily basis. If it is not severe, she may consider talk therapy, supplements, massage, yoga or acupuncture, all of which are effective, natural treatments for insomnia that do not impact the nursing child. If other areas of her life rapidly deteriorate, however, she may benefit from Ambien.

Official Statements

Ambien is classified by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP, as L3, meaning it is moderately safe for breastfeeding mothers. The drug label says Ambien may not be safe for nursing mothers and they need to have conversations with their doctors before they decide to take the drug. Ambien is excreted into human milk, but the incidence is very low and takes place mostly during the three hours immediately following drug intake, according to a 1989 study published in the “European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.”


Side effects of ambien, according to the drug label, include abnormal thought and behavioral changes, severe anaphylactic shock, hallucination and suicide. While these are severe enough for the general population, they carry perhaps more weight for the nursing mother. The drug label also warns that a more serious psychiatric illness may be present if insomnia does not improve within seven to 10 days of taking Ambien.


The most obvious benefit of Ambien is sleep. A nursing mother may be tired already due to the extra demands on her body, and an isolated incident of insomnia could lead to a postpartum mood disorder. Ambien may prevent a relatively harmless situation from spiraling out of control.

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