Hypothyroidism and pregnancy may not seem at first to be two ideas that go hand-in-hand, and for good reason: they shouldn’t. It’s important for anyone who is currently pregnant or considering becoming pregnant to appreciate the role thyroid hormone can play. A surprisingly common condition, hypothyroidism can wreak havoc on the life of mother and child making it an essential consideration before, during and after pregnancy.
Getting to know thyroid hormone
Insufficient quantities of thyroid hormone, a condition known as hypothyroidism, and pregnancy can both create important and often unanticipated physical changes. For this reason, women who are thinking of becoming pregnant should consider having their thyroid function checked. Later, it may be difficult to discern the changes due to hypothyroidism and those caused by pregnancy.
Produced by a small gland in the neck, thyroid hormone is the major determinant of metabolic drive that plays an important role throughout life but particularly before birth. The levels of hormone required for an adult women are increased during pregnancy to meet both her and her developing child’s needs.
Human chorionic gonadotropin, also known as hCG, is the hormone that tells the body – and pregnancy tests – that a baby is on the way. It helps to ensure a healthy pregnancy in part by stimulating the mother’s thyroid gland to produce slightly higher levels of thyroid hormone.
Understanding the effects of hypothyroidism and pregnancy
Although hypothyroidism and pregnancy tests are not currently run side-by-side, a growing concern over proper thyroid function is inspiring more moms-to-be to learn about the role of thyroid hormone in maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Without it, developing children are at risk for problems that include inadequate growth and stunted mental capacities.
The typical picture of someone suffering from hypothyroidism does not always appear in pregnant women. At times, these symptoms are mistaken for the normal changes associated with pregnancy.
Already feeling run down, women experiencing both hypothyroidism and pregnancy can feel overwhelmingly fatigued. In such cases, a mom-to-be may actually be experiencing some symptoms of hypothyroidism and pregnancy is getting blamed! This may be because hypothyroidism and pregnancy can share similar traits such as
- Increased fatigue
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Changes in appetite and sense of smell
Why hypothyroidism and pregnancy is so important
There is a long established link between mothers who have hypothyroidism during pregnancy and the intelligence of their children. Even mild forms of hypothyroidism during pregnancy can cause children to lack full intellectual development. Since babies do not have a functioning thyroid gland until the second trimester, it’s essential that the mother’s thyroid hormone levels are high enough to meet both her and the developing baby’s needs.
Not only is neurological function impaired by hypothyroidism, but the outcome of pregnancy is severely affected as well. Women with insufficient levels of thyroid hormone are more likely to suffer miscarriages, premature delivery and complications such as placental abruption, preeclampsia and excessive postpartum bleeding.
Preventing hypothyroidism in pregnancy
Any woman who is or may become pregnant should take prenatal vitamins throughout her pregnancy and while breastfeeding. These help ensure proper levels of several vitamins and minerals that support the mother and child throughout fetal development. This includes the necessary quantities of iodine needed to maintain normal thyroid hormone production.
Treating hypothyroidism in pregnancy
Pregnant women who are diagnosed with hypothyroidism receive levothyroxine, a synthetic form of natural T4 thyroid hormone. The dose is monitored closely to ensure that both mother and child are receiving the required amounts.
Women who already have hypothyroidism and become pregnant will be advised to raise their normal dose of levothyroxine. This change is usually in the range of 30 to 50 percent but will requiring monitoring throughout the pregnancy.
Pregnancy requires that a woman’s immune system go into a special kind of hold pattern. Sometimes it’s difficult for her body to return to its normal state of immune functioning after giving birth, causing it to attack healthy tissues like the thyroid gland. In such cases, this autoimmune inflammation can cause hypothyroidism.
Nearly one in ten women can experience postpartum thyroiditis in the first year after giving birth. A depressed mood and fatigue that lasts long after the “baby blues” should have finished may mean a new mom is actually experiencing hypothyroidism. A simple blood test during pregnancy may indicate women who are at risk for developing this problem.
It’s really important to recognize symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis. A therapy as simple as one small daily tablet can be all that’s needed to help new moms feel better and ensure her future pregnancies are healthy too.