Is It Safe to Take Zolpidem While Pregnant?
Insomnia is a very common issue women face during pregnancy, which is why they may wonder if it’s safe to take zolpidem while pregnant. Zolpidem is a generic drug used in brand-name medications like Ambien. Zolpidem has sedative effects, so it’s used to treat insomnia and various sleep issues. It’s believed zolpidem can help people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Zolpidem isn’t a benzodiazepine, but it does increase the effects of the calming neurotransmitter GABA in the central nervous system. This is similar to how benzodiazepines work. There are more than 10 million prescriptions written for zolpidem in the U.S. each year. Zolpidem is intended only to be used as a short-term sleep medication with recommended usage periods of anywhere from two to six weeks.
The most common side effects of zolpidem include headache, drowsiness and dizziness. With long-term use, the most common side effects include flu-like symptoms, back pain, lethargy and depression. There are also risks of sleepwalking and sleep activities that can occur with the use of zolpidem. Many people report feeling a hangover the next day after using zolpidem. Hangover side effects can include daytime sleepiness, changes in cognitive function and psychomotor impairment. With the long-term use of zolpidem, the development of a drug tolerance is possible. If someone is tolerant to zolpidem and stops using it suddenly, they may have discontinuation or withdrawal symptoms. Abrupt discontinuation of zolpidem can cause symptoms including delirium and severe side effects such as seizures. The higher the dosage and the longer the time zolpidem is used, the more likely severe withdrawal symptoms are.
So, is it safe to take Zolpidem while pregnant? Maybe, but also maybe not. It can be a frustrating answer for pregnant women, but there are a lot of drugs that fall into this gray area. Zolpidem is an FDA pregnancy category C drug. The FDA categories are based on research currently available, including research from animal studies and human research. Category A drugs are considered the safest to take during pregnancy. Category A drugs don’t have any demonstrated harmful effects to an unborn baby if used during pregnancy in animal or human research. Category B drugs are also considered safe, although most evidence may come from animal studies. There may be limited human research available. Category C drugs may have demonstrated adverse effects in animal studies and limited human research. With a category C drug like zolpidem, a doctor may still advise a pregnant woman to use it but only if possible benefits outweigh risks.
Based on research from the American Pregnancy Association, as much as 78 percent of pregnant women struggle with sleep disturbances. It’s a common problem related to different factors. In the first trimester, it’s often because of changes in hormones. Later in pregnancy, sleep disturbance and insomnia may be the result of discomfort from a growing abdomen. This leaves pregnant women wondering how Zolpidem can affect an unborn baby. In animal studies, there is evidence of problems such as fetal loss with very high doses of zolpidem. There aren’t currently specific birth defects associated with the use of zolpidem during pregnancy because of limited human research, but the risks can’t be ruled out. There are reports of human babies having breathing problems if the mother used zolpidem close to the time of delivery. There are also reports of babies experiencing withdrawal symptoms after birth if the mother used zolpidem. These symptoms can include limp and weak muscles.
Along with possible direct effects of zolpidem on an unborn baby, there can be indirect risks as well. If a pregnant woman uses zolpidem, it may increase the risk she’s in an accident or falls. This can lead to a miscarriage. Some people who use zolpidem do other dangerous activities while on the drug such as driving or cooking in their sleep, among other activities. Any of these situations can pose a risk to an unborn baby.
It’s not very likely a doctor would prescribe zolpidem to a pregnant woman. Instead, a healthcare provider would likely work with the woman to find alternatives that could help her sleep, without exposing the baby to the potential risks of zolpidem. Most healthcare providers will first recommend pregnant women make a change to their sleep routine. For example, using a body pillow can help or getting prenatal massages. Avoiding daytime naps and getting some physical activity during the day can help promote sleep as well.
If non-medicinal strategies don’t work, a doctor may recommend over-the-counter sleep aids. Some OTC sleep aids are category B pregnancy drugs so they may be safer. If you’ve already been using zolpidem and find out you’re pregnant, don’t stop taking it without talking to your doctor or healthcare provider. Stopping zolpidem suddenly and going through withdrawal can create pregnancy complications. Your doctor may suggest you gradually reduce how much zolpidem you take until you stop altogether. Another option during pregnancy is a medically-assisted detox.
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