Hypothyroidism and Breastfeeding

Hypothyroidism and Breastfeeding: Take Precautions

Should you worry about your hypothyroidism and breastfeeding your baby?  Many mothers worry about the possible effects of taking their thyroid medications whilst breastfeeding.  Or whether they’ll be able to breastfeed adequately with their hypothyroidism.  However, the fact is that your thyroid medications are hormone replacements.  They are simply replacing hormones the thyroid would normally be producing.  So long as you take them strictly as prescribed you shouldn’t have any problems breastfeeding your baby.

Pregnancy is a time of significant hormonal changes, which can affect your thyroid.  Therefore you will need to monitor your hypothyroidism because you may need to change dosages, even if you’ve been stable on a particular dosage for years.  In fact, it’s reasonably common for women to experience changes in their hypothyroidism during and after pregnancy that require changes to their medications.

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Interesting Questions about Thyroid:

What is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism makes the body speed up. It occurs when there is too much thyroid hormone in the blood (“hyper” means “too much”). Nearly 10 times more frequent in women, it affects about 2% of all women in the United States.

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, is caused by problems with the immune system and tends to run in families. It affects at least 2.5 million Americans, including Olympic athlete Gail Devers who won a gold medal in track after being diagnosed with and treated for Graves’ disease.

Symptoms include:

  • fast heart rate
  • nervousness
  • increased perspiration
  • muscle weakness
  • trembling hands
  • weight loss
  • hair loss
  • skin changes
  • increased frequency of bowel movements
  • decreased menstrual flow and less frequent menstrual flow
  • goiter
  • eyes that seem to be popping out of their sockets.

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism rarely occur all at once. However, if you have more than one of these symptoms, and they continue for some time, you should see your doctor.

What Causes Hypothyroidism?

There are several different causes of hypothyroidism:

  • An inflammation of the thyroid gland called thyroiditis can lower the amount of hormones produced. The number one cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a painless disease of the immune system that runs in families. Another form of thyroiditis, postpartum thyroiditis, occurs in 5%-9% of women soon after giving birth and is usually a temporary condition.
  • Thyroid surgery or radioactive iodine treatment may cause hypothyroidism.
  • One out of every 4,000 infants is born without a working thyroid gland. If the problem is not corrected, the child will become mentally and physically retarded.
  • About 100 million people around the world don’t get enough iodine in their diets. Iodine is a chemical which the thyroid uses to produce its hormones. The problem has been solved in the United States and most developed countries by adding iodine to salt.
  • Some other possible causes of hypothyroidism are radiation therapy to the head and neck, birth defects, certain drugs, problems with the pituitary gland, and a gradual wearing out of the thyroid gland.
How is Thyroid Disease Treated?

If you have thyroid disease, your doctor can discuss which treatment is right for you. The two basic goals for treating thyroid disease are to return thyroid hormone levels to normal and to remove potentially cancerous lumps. Treatments include radioactive iodine, antithyroid drugs, beta-blocking drugs, thyroid hormone pills, and surgery. There are several types of treatment:

  • Radioactive iodine is used to shrink a thyroid gland that has become enlarged or is producing too much hormone. It may be used on patients with hyperthyroidism, a goiter, or some cases of cancer.
  • Surgery is normally used to remove a cancer and may also be used to remove a large goiter.
  • Thyroid hormone pills are a common treatment for hypothyroidism, for patients with a goiter, and for patients who have had thyroid surgery. The pills provide the body with the right amount of thyroid hormone.
  • Anithyroid drugs and beta-blocking drugs are used to treat hyperthyroid patients.

Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ

Hypothyroidism And Breastfeeding – When Should You Be Worried?

Problems with hypothyroidism and breastfeeding are more likely to occur if you’ve been neglecting your condition, not taking your medications correctly or not taking the correct dosages.  Insufficient thyroid hormone can affect your ability to breastfeed in several ways.  It may reduce the amount of milk you’ll be able to produce because the hormone involved in milk production, prolactin, is affected by thyroid function.   You may also experience difficulties ‘letting down’.

It’s important to note that there are other health conditions unrelated to your thyroid that can also affect your ability to produce milk.  Therefore, if you’re doing everything right by your hypothyroidism but still feel you’re not producing enough milk talk to your doctor and your pediatrician.  It may be time for a thorough checkup of your thyroid.  Alternatively, it may be that the problem is caused by something else, not your hypothyroidism.  The pediatrician will be able to offer advice about ways to ensure your baby is getting the nutrition he, or she, requires.

Some of the symptoms in your baby to watch out for that indicate you may not be producing sufficient milk include:

  • inadequate weight gain
  • weight loss
  • insufficient bowel movements and urination

Another thing to be aware of is that many women experience temporary thyroid problems after having a baby.  For instance, around 7% of new mothers will develop postpartum thyroiditis within 12 months of giving birth.  This can cause symptoms very similar to postpartum depression so if you find yourself with the ‘baby blues’ think about getting your thyroid checked.  Another common symptom of postpartum thyroiditis is inadequate milk production.

And if you’re worried that some of your excess TSH might affect your baby through your breast milk, the author of that renowned publication about all things to do with medications and mother’s milk advises that the amounts that do get into breast milk are so small as to be insignificant.