February 26, 2019
February is Hypothyroidism Awareness Month (probably better known for being Black History Month, but don't forget about Adopt-a-Rescued-Rabbit Month and National Grapefruit Month), so we'll take this opportunity to talk about your thyroid. Your thyroid is the small gland in the base of your neck that produces thyroid hormones known as T3 and T4. These hormones help control your metabolism. Why is this relevant to new moms? We’ll get there, stay with me.
If your thyroid makes too much of the hormone thyroxine (T4), it’s called hyperthyroidism and it feels like your metabolism is working overtime (so you might have a rapid heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, or feel warm easily). If you’re not making enough, it’s called hypothyroidism and the opposite symptoms occur (slower heartbeat, feeling tired or sluggish, feeling cold easily). These conditions could be a sign of a thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, or postpartum thyroiditis.
Are your ears perking up now? Postpartum thyroiditis is when the thyroid becomes inflamed (aka thyroiditis) during the year after childbirth (hence postpartum). This can manifest as two phases: the first looks like hyperthyroidism and second looks like hypothyroidism, but can also appear as just one or the other. It usually goes away within 12-18 months, but some women never recover from the hypothyroidism phase and need treatment.
It’s not particularly common (5-10% of women get it), and it goes away on its own 80% of the time. And that’s great, except that therefore it doesn’t get much attention, especially given the potential consequences for pregnant women. If you do have symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism and you’re thinking about getting pregnant, talk to your doctor about checking your hormone levels. There are pretty significant risks to both the mother and baby if the mother has inadequately treated thyroid problems. You can learn more about pregnancy & thyroid disease and postpartum thyroiditis on the American Thyroid Association's website.