Lack of sleep is common for new parents. Also common is insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. The stress of a new parent combined with the lingering pain of swollen breasts, night feedings and childbirth can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
If you have trouble sleeping, there are some over-the-counter sleep aids and home remedies that may be safe while you’re breastfeeding. But you need to weigh the potential benefits against the potential risks. This is where your obstetrician can help guide you in choosing the safest option for you and your baby.
This article explores some of the sleep problems that nursing mothers experience. It also explores different medical and non-medical options for improving sleep, including possible risks and safety concerns.
Nursing Mother Challenges
Most people choose to breastfeed for some time after giving birth. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 43 percent are still breastfeeding a six-month-old baby, while 21 percent are still breastfeeding a one-year-old.
One of the first things to note is that breastfeeding can actually help with insomnia.hormones ProlactinThe person responsible for breastfeeding also plays a role in relieving stress for nursing mothers. Prolactin levels will remain high as long as you continue to breastfeed.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t still have sleep problems. Interrupting sleep on a regular basis can lead to sleep deprivation that can get worse and worse over time, resulting in:
- yawning constantly
- groggy during the day
- doze off
- Slow response time
When your concentration, mood, and functioning are impaired, it makes sense to seek solutions to help you regain the sleep you need.
Breastfeeding can help promote sleep because prolactin helps stimulate lactation and reduce stress in nursing mothers. Even so, over time, sleep disruption can build up and lead to sleep deprivation.
Over-the-counter sleep aids
Most over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids contain antihistamines. These are medications commonly used to relieve allergy symptoms.Older generation antihistamines such as Diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl and Diphenidate) and chlorpheniramine Found in Chlor-Trimetron and Aller-Chlor) are known to cause drowsiness and promote sleep.
In a short period of time, the two active ingredients are perhaps Safe for breastfeeding people. According to the Canadian College of Family Physicians, antihistamines are safe to use while breastfeeding. Only very small amounts are excreted in breast milk.
Diphenhydramine is one of the most commonly used sleep aids. It is the active ingredient in Nytol and Sominex. It’s also found in over-the-counter pain relievers used to relieve pain and induce sleep, such as Tylenol PM (acetaminophen and diphenhydramine).
Risks and Precautions
As with all medicines, OTC sleep aids containing diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine can cause side effects, including:
- daytime sleepiness
- upset stomach
- nausea or vomiting
- chest tightness
- muscle weakness
These OTC sleep aids are for short-term use only. Long-term use of these drugs increases the risk of side effects. It can also affect babies, causing irritability, crying, lethargy, or sleep problems.
Long-term use of antihistamines also has paradoxical effects in some people, leading to wakefulness rather than drowsiness.
Antihistamines can also reduce the supply of breast milk. If you decide to use a sleep aid like Nytol or Sominex, staying well hydrated can help minimize this effect.
Over-the-counter antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Nytol, Sominex) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimetron) may be safe while breastfeeding. Even so, they are only used for short-term relief of insomnia.
melatonin is a chemical released by the brain that helps induce sleep as part of the sleep-wake cycle. You can also buy melatonin supplements at most drugstores and drugstores, which some claim can help overcome insomnia.
Melatonin side effects are relatively rare and tend to be mild. These include headache, dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. This is probably the safest option if you are breastfeeding and have trouble falling asleep.
Although some studies have concluded that melatonin supplements can help you fall asleep faster, they don’t seem to work for everyone. Some people reported sleeping longer, while others reported no effect at all.
Also, the effect tends to diminish over time. Therefore, melatonin supplements are actually intended for short-term rather than continuous relief of insomnia.
Melatonin supplements are a safe option if you’re breastfeeding and have trouble sleeping. Having said that, they seem to suit some people better than others.
Coping with sleep problems
Medications and supplements aren’t the only solution to sleep problems. With some lifestyle changes, you can overcome insomnia without medication.
Some more efficient options include:
- Improve sleep hygiene: Sleep hygiene involves creating routines and environments that promote sleep. This includes avoiding food and electronics an hour or so before bedtime. It also means maintaining a regular sleep schedule and making sure the bedroom is dark, quiet and cool.
- Exercise: Daily exercise not only helps with sleep, it also improves your mood by releasing a hormone called “feel-good” endorphins. Even taking your child out in the stroller for 30 minutes to an hour can help.
- Healthcare: Sometimes sleep problems are secondary to post-pregnancy problems, such as heartburn, leg cramps, or shortness of breath. Rather than “living with it,” talk with your healthcare provider about remedies that can ease these concerns.
If these remedies don’t help, you may benefit from a sleep specialist who can conduct a nighttime sleep study.In some cases, there may be pre-existing sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea, which may have been “revealed” by the pregnancy. By seeing a sleep specialist, you may find solutions that will improve not only your sleep, but later in life.
Non-medical solutions for insomnia include improving sleep hygiene and daily exercise. If needed, your healthcare provider can treat common pregnancy problems that affect sleep (such as heartburn) or refer you to a sleep specialist for further investigation.
10 Bad Habits That Cause Insomnia
Insomnia and other sleep problems are common among new parents, leading to poor concentration, fatigue, depression, and other symptoms of sleep deprivation.
Over-the-counter sleep aids containing the antihistamines diphenhydramine (such as Nytol and Sominex) may be safe for nursing mothers with insomnia. Another antihistamine called chlorpheniramine (found in Chlor-Trimetron) may also help. Side effects include daytime sleepiness, upset stomach, and nervousness.
A safer option may be the over-the-counter supplement melatonin. While melatonin can help some people fall asleep faster, it doesn’t work for everyone and tends to lose its potency over time.
Lifestyle changes may help overcome insomnia. This includes improving your sleep habits, exercising regularly, and creating a sleep-promoting bedroom environment. If sleep problems persist, consult your healthcare provider. If needed, you may be referred to a sleep specialist for further investigation.
If your sleep problems persist, it’s important to focus on yourself and identify the source of the problem. New parents often put their own needs on the back burner as they focus on the newborn and other family members.
Not only can disrupted sleep make you restless, it can be dangerous when your reaction time is reduced, such as while driving. Give your baby a gift and take care of yourself first.