Can I Take Ambien During Pregnancy?

Medically reviewed by Darren Hein, PharmD on August 9, 2016Written by University of Illinois-Chicago, Drug Information Group on August 9, 2016

Overview

They say insomnia during pregnancy is your body prepping for the sleepless nights of the newborn days. According to the American Pregnancy Association, up to 78% of pregnant women say they have trouble sleeping while they’re pregnant. Though uncomfortable, insomnia isn't harmful to your growing baby. Still, not being able to fall or stay asleep during pregnancy is a cruel and uncomfortable trick. Insomnia may cause you to toss and turn all night and leave you wondering where to turn for help.

You may consider Ambien. However, Ambien may not be safe to take during pregnancy. It can cause side effects or problems with your pregnancy. You do have safer options, though, including lifestyle changes and other drug treatments.

Category C drug

Ambien belongs to a class of drugs called sedatives. It’s used to treat insomnia. This drug works like natural chemicals in your body that cause sleepiness to help you fall or stay asleep.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers Ambien a category C pregnancy drug. This means that research in animals has shown side effects in the unborn baby when the mother takes the drug. Category C also means that there haven’t been enough studies done in humans to know how the drug may affect a human fetus.

There are no well-controlled studies looking at the use of Ambien during pregnancy. For this reason, you should only take Ambien during your pregnancy if the possible benefits outweigh the potential risks to your unborn baby.

The very little research that is out there has found no link between birth defects and Ambien use during pregnancy. There is not a lot of human data to support this conclusion, though. Studies done in pregnant animals who took Ambien also did not show birth defects, but the animal babies did have decreased weight when their mothers took high doses of Ambien during pregnancy.

There have also been reports of human babies having breathing problems at birth when their mothers used Ambien at the end of their pregnancies. Babies born to mothers who took Ambien during pregnancy are also at risk for withdrawal symptoms after birth. These symptoms can include weak and limp muscles.

In most cases, it’s best to try to avoid Ambien if you can during your pregnancy. If you must use the drug, try to use it as few times as possible as prescribed by your doctor.

Read more: Complete drug information for Ambien, including usage, warnings, and more »

Side effects of Ambien

You should only take Ambien if you can’t get a full night’s sleep and a doctor has diagnosed your condition as insomnia. Ambien can cause side effects in some people, even if you take the drug as prescribed. They can include:

  • drowsiness
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea

Drowsiness and dizziness can increase your risk of falling, and diarrhea can increase your chance of dehydration. It’s especially important to be aware of these side effects when you’re pregnant. To learn more, read about diarrhea and the importance of staying hydrated during pregnancy.

This drug can also cause serious side effects. If you have any of these side effects, call your doctor right away:

  • changes in behavior, such as nervousness
  • doing activities that you can’t remember even though you were fully awake, such as “sleep driving”

If you take Ambien and don’t sleep long enough, you may experience certain side effects the next day. These include decreased awareness and reaction time. You should not drive or do other activities that require alertness if you take Ambien without getting a full night’s sleep.

Ambien may also cause withdrawal symptoms. After you stop taking the drug, you may have symptoms for one to two days. These can include:

  • trouble sleeping
  • nausea
  • lightheadedness
  • feeling of warmth in your face
  • uncontrolled crying
  • vomiting
  • stomach cramps
  • panic attacks
  • nervousness
  • stomach area pain

If you have stomach pain or cramps, contact your doctor. These symptoms could also be related to your pregnancy.

Deciding whether to take Ambien during pregnancy

If you use Ambien at least a couple days per week during pregnancy, it may cause withdrawal symptoms in your newborn. This effect is even more likely the closer you are to giving birth. That’s why it’s best in most cases to avoid Ambien during pregnancy if you can. If you must use Ambien, try to use it as little as possible.

There are non-drug remedies for insomnia that may be safer for pregnant women. In fact, your doctor will likely recommend trying natural ways to get a good night’s sleep first. Consider the following tips:

  • Listen to relaxing music before going to bed.
  • Keep TVs, laptop computers, and smart phones out of your bedroom.
  • Try a new sleeping position.
  • Take a warm bath before going to bed.
  • Get a massage before going to bed.
  • Avoid long daytime naps.

If these habits don’t help you get enough shuteye, your doctor may recommend medications. They may first suggest tricyclic antidepressants. These drugs are safer than Ambien for treating insomnia during pregnancy. Ask your doctor about these drugs if you’re interested in medications to help you sleep. Your doctor will likely only prescribe Ambien if these drugs don’t improve your sleep.

Learn more: Tips for managing insomnia in early pregnancy »

Talk with your doctor

Insomnia can strike during pregnancy for a number of reasons. These may include:

  • not being used to the size of your growing belly
  • heartburn
  • back pain
  • hormonal changes
  • anxiety
  • having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night

In most cases, Ambien is not a good choice to treat insomnia during pregnancy. It can cause withdrawal symptoms in your baby after birth. Making changes to your bedtime habits may help you get a more restful night’s sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping during pregnancy, talk to your doctor. There are also other drugs that can be used to treat insomnia that are safer than Ambien during pregnancy.

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