Melatonin -- an over-the-counter supplement -- can be a powerful sleep aid. New moms eager to catch up on sleep might be tempted to give it a try. However, if you're breastfeeding, its best to leave melatonin on the shelf. Fortunately, other alternatives exist to help you get some needed sleep, although you should talk to your doctor before taking any medication or supplements while nursing a baby.
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The hormone melatonin is produced naturally in the brain in response to darkness. Melatonin affects the circadian rhythms, including sleep cycles, and is at its highest just before bed time. Many people use synthetic melatonin to alter the natural sleep cycle, such as when sleep is disrupted due to shift work or jet lag.
Nursing Mothers and Sleep
Nursing mothers are often concerned about missing sleep, especially when the baby is very young. A newborn baby digests breast milk much more quickly than formula, which means that both mother and child need to be awake every two to three hours for a feeding. Fatigue in a new mother can lead to a depressed immune system and an increase in infections. However, a 2007 study in "The Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing" found that breastfeeding mothers actually got more sleep than their formula-feeding peers. The breastfeeding mothers slept about 45 minutes more per night than other parents and reported fewer sleep disturbances.
Breastfeeding mothers should avoid using supplemental melatonin because the potential effects remain unknown as of 2011. Melatonin does make its way into breast milk, so it could get into your baby's system if you take it while nursing. A baby who is struggling to develop a regular sleep schedule could have her efforts disrupted by melatonin in her mother's milk. Melatonin might also decrease milk supply because it lowers levels of prolactin, a hormone necessary for milk production. Melatonin could also have other hormonal effects.
Instead of using melatonin to fix sleep patterns disrupted by life with a newborn, a breastfeeding mother might want to try natural methods to combat insomnia. Drinking a glass of warm milk before bed might help make you sleepy due to the high levels of L-tryptophan in the milk. Herbal remedies such as chamomile tea or passionflower could also make you drift off into dreamland, but talk to your doctor about using any herbal remedies before you try them.