Pregnancy is a time when many women, especially in the third trimester, have difficulty sleeping. Herbal remedies like valerian root are often thought of as less dangerous than prescription sleeping pills for an expectant mom and her baby, but it's crucial to assess the risks of any medication taken during pregnancy. The bottom line is that expectant or nursing moms should consult their doctor before taking valerian root, and most experts advise against it.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the root of the valerian plant has been used since the second century A.D. as a treatment for anxiety, nervousness and insomnia. The Latin term for the plant is Valeriana officinalis, and other names for it include "all-heal" and "garden heliotrope."
According to the National Institutes of Health, the roots and rhizomes (stems of the plants that grow underground) are the source of valerian's active ingredients. The delivery system of the herb includes capsules and tablets containing powdered valerian, tinctures of the root in alcohol, and it can also be found in herbal teas.
How It Works
There have been no definitive studies about the action of valerian root in the human body, but a University of Maryland Medical Center report speculates that it boosts the amount of gamma aminobutyric acid—generally called GABA—in the human brain. The chemical GABA works on nerve cells in the body in the same way that prescription anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium do.
Valerian and Pregnancy
There have been no definitive in utero valerian studies done on humans. However, one done on rats, published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed "no signs of maternal toxicity" and that "valerian had no adverse effects on fertility or fetal development." The University of Maryland report says that United States Food and Drug Administration has listed valerian as "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS).
However, as with all medications consumed during pregnancy, it's best to err on the side of caution. Though the University of Maryland Medical Center reports that "most studies show no harmful effects on fertility or fetal development," it also reports, "Experts advise pregnant and nursing women to avoid taking valerian." Moms suffering from extreme insomnia may get the okay from their health-care provider to take low doses of valerian. However, relaxing lifestyle changes—such as avoiding caffeine, partaking in light daily exercise, massage and meditation—should be tried before any medication is ingested.