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Have you been experiencing fatigue, changes in weight, or hair loss?
These may sound like common signs of motherhood, but it could be an indication that you have a thyroid issue.
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, so we wanted to take this opportunity to write about these often undiagnosed thyroid issues that are extremely common during pregnancy and postpartum.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in the lower neck that regulates energy production and the speed of every chemical reaction in all cells. It produces thyroid hormones that play key roles in many functions in our body, from maintaining body temperature and regulating our mood, to supporting our skin, hair health, and fertility. Our thyroid health is involved across many of our body systems, including our metabolic, endocrine, nervous, and cardiovascular systems.
When your thyroid gland is inflamed or not functioning properly, it can lead to symptoms of overproduction (hyperthyroidism) or -- more commonly -- underproduction (hypothyroidism) of thyroid hormones.
Common symptoms of thyroid dysfunction include unexplained weight change, feeling fatigued or foggy, mood changes, or sensitivity to extreme temperatures. Many of these symptoms often overlap with pregnancy and postpartum, which is why it is important to be aware of them and see if you are at risk for thyroid issues.
During pregnancy, 10-17% of women can experience thyroid issues. Why? Because the needs for thyroid hormones increase by 50% in order to meet the demands of a growing baby (especially to support healthy brain development) in addition to your own metabolic needs. Until your baby can produce its own, it relies on your thyroid hormones, which can often lead to an overtaxed thyroid gland, especially if you have a mild but undiagnosed thyroid issue. In these cases, you may experience increased symptoms of hypothyroidism after becoming pregnant. These imbalances in thyroid hormones can lead to complications including anemia, preeclampsia, premature birth, low birth weight, and miscarriage.[3,4,5]
One common cause of thyroid issues is iodine deficiency. Iodine is a crucial nutrient for your thyroid health because it is one of the two building blocks of your thyroid hormones.
During pregnancy, the recommended daily amount for iodine increases by over 50% from 150 to 220 mcg/day, and studies indicate that a substantial portion of pregnant women in the United States are iodine insufficient. Since your baby depends entirely on your thyroid hormones, an increase in iodine intake is important for proper growth and development . Iodine intake remains important during the postpartum period, especially for those who are breastfeeding. Exclusively breastfed babies rely entirely on your iodine levels for healthy development. However, studies indicate that almost half of breastfeeding mothers produce breast milk that is low in iodine .
During postpartum, having a healthy and well functioning thyroid gland is crucial for maintaining energy, producing breast milk, supporting your mental health, and for regulating fertility for future pregnancies.
Postpartum thyroiditis, which refers to thyroid abnormalities that develop within a year of birth, is extremely common, affecting over 20% of new mothers. It is also more prevalent in women with type-1 diabetes. While thyroid function typically resumes between 12-18 months postpartum, 20-40% of women are susceptible to developing hypothyroidism permanently .
In many cases, it can be difficult to diagnose thyroid issues after birth because many of the symptoms are similar to what a new mom typically experiences: fatigue, depression, difficulty losing weight, hair loss.
This is why if you experience any symptoms, it is important to rule out thyroid issues through blood work.
While many providers only check for TSH and T4 levels, getting the full panel is extremely beneficial, especially for those who are pregnant or planning for a pregnancy. Why? Because studies show that if you have high levels of antithyroid antibodies before or during pregnancy, you are much more likely to develop thyroid issues postpartum. OR Up to 50% of women who have elevated antithyroid antibodies in the first trimester of pregnancy experience postpartum thyroiditis .
Ask your provider for the following tests:
There are a lot of complex processes involved with our thyroid, so always consult a specialist if you have concerns or questions. Addressing thyroid abnormalities early, especially if you are planning for pregnancy, is important to prevent complications that could arise, and being aware of any issues can help your recovery and postpartum.
We understand that through all stages of motherhood, your body has heightened needs for nutrients. That’s why we have a wide selection of products to support your health through preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum. Sign up for our list to find out about new products and exclusive deals!