Thyroid Problems and Pregnancy - Your Questions Answered
Suffering from any health conditions may make you more apprehensive about becoming pregnant. This is certainly true of women with thyroid problems, many of whom have reported anxiety about potential pregnancy1. Thyroid disease is the second most common endocrine condition affecting women of reproductive age2, making it particularly worthy of consideration.
Ultimately, having thyroid issues doesn’t necessarily mean that you cannot have a successful pregnancy; nonetheless, there are potential risks to be considered. This article summarizes some of the main aspects related to thyroid problems and pregnancy.
How does Hypothyroidism affect Fertility?
Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient quantities of certain hormones. This can cause interference with the ovulation process for women, meaning that eggs may not always be released from the ovaries. If this is the case, the woman will not be able to get pregnant.
In addition, some of the underlying causes of hypothyroidism may affect fertility. Such causes include pituitary disorders or autoimmune issues. Therefore, even if the hypothyroidism itself doesn’t reduce fertility, there may still be a link.
How might Thyroid Problems affect My Pregnancy and My Unborn Child?
The normal development of your baby’s brain and nervous system is largely dependent on thyroid hormones. Within the first three months of pregnancy, the baby needs a supply of thyroid hormones from the mother, delivered via the placenta. After that, an unborn baby’s thyroid starts to work by itself at around 12 weeks of gestation, although it doesn’t produce enough hormones until about 20 weeks.
Estrogen and human chorionic gonadotropin are two hormones that are related to pregnancy. When pregnant, these hormones can generate higher levels of thyroid hormone in the mother’s blood. This can sometimes mask potential thyroid issues, making any genuine concerns challenging to spot. Also, the mother’s thyroid often grows slightly during pregnancy, whether they have previously had thyroid problems or not.
Some symptoms that may be traditionally associated with thyroid concerns are standard in many pregnancies. This includes things like fatigue, a faster heart rate, and difficulty regulating temperature. However, there are other signs that may be more likely to signify a thyroid-related issue. These include shaky hands, irregular heartbeat, and unexplained weight loss.
If untreated, thyroid problems during pregnancy can potentially lead to:
- Thyroid storm
- Congestive heart failure
- Abruption of the placenta
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
If your baby is born with thyroid problems linked to those of the mother, they may have a very fast heart rate, which could lead to fatal heart failure. Also, the soft area in their skull may close prematurely, which could cause neurological issues. Furthermore, they are likely to be more irritable than other newborns and not put weight on well.
How can I Reduce the Risks?
The most important thing to do is to continue to monitor your hormone levels through liaison with your doctor. Close monitoring of thyroid hormone levels during pregnancy can help to reduce the risk of miscarriage3. Appropriate management has proven to show improved outcomes, thereby illustrating the high significance of diagnosis and treatment when required2.
Due to the fact that pregnancy can cause major changes in a woman's thyroid function, and because thyroid disease in the mother can lead to complications during pregnancy and in the health of the unborn child, special considerations need to be made by medical professionals5. Advice to doctors is that fine-needle aspiration cytology needs to be performed on dominant thyroid nodules that are found during pregnancy and that radioactive isotopes must be avoided5.
As an individual, however, that advice may be quite meaningless. For a woman concerned about thyroid issues when trying to conceive or while pregnant, the following are the most critical considerations6:
Avoid soy as this alters hormone production. You should also try to steer clear of processed foods as much as possible. Gluten intake should also be reduced. Things that are really good to eat if you are concerned about thyroid problems include seaweed, milk, nuts, yogurt, chicken, fish, berries, and eggs.Smoking
It is widely accepted that smoking is bad for your health. However, in relation to the thyroid specifically, toxins released by burning cigarettes or cigars can cause the thyroid to become overly sensitive. This, in turn, can lead to thyroid-related illnesses.Stress
Stress is concerned to be a prevalent cause of thyroid disorders. It may be easier said than done, but try to reduce the occurrence of stressful situations. Stress can be minimized through mindfulness and meditation or even just ensuring that you have time to unwind and relax.Medication
As previously mentioned, if you know that you have a thyroid problem, you are likely to be already undergoing treatment, possibly including medication. You need to make sure that your doctor has clearly explained how your treatment and medication work. If you develop a thyroid issue during pregnancy, seek immediate medical advice.
Knowing how best to manage thyroid problems can be difficult at any time, let alone when you are trying to conceive or are carrying a baby. Additionally, around one to four in every 1,000 pregnant women develop thyroid problems during the course of their pregnancies4. Therefore, your previous condition may be exacerbated, or you may acquire it anew when becoming pregnant.
It is possible to conceive if you have a thyroid condition, although it may be more difficult as your ovaries may not release eggs as regularly as those of a ‘healthy’ woman. An unborn baby then relies on their mother’s thyroid hormone production for approximately half of the pregnancy, meaning that your thyroid problems need to be monitored closely throughout.
Furthermore, thyroid issues may cause premature birth or miscarriage, as well as other concerns such as preeclampsia and heart failure. All of this goes to show the significance of appropriate treatment, which typically improves such conditions.
If you know you have a thyroid problem or are concerned about developing one during pregnancy, you should make sure you maintain a balanced diet that is free from processed food and, particularly, soy. You should also avoid smoking and try to limit your stress levels, perhaps by using mindfulness.
Are you a new mom? Then we recommend our Pregnancy Box which is a combo of some of the most useful nutrients while you are carrying your baby.