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April 25, 2023 7 min read

Being a new mother brings a myriad of joys, challenges, and questions – especially when it comes to breastfeeding. If you have a thyroid disease like hypothyroidism, you may be wondering how this condition could affect your breastfeeding journey. Below, we'll explore various aspects of hypothyroidism and breastfeeding, including the effects on milk supply and quality, detection, and management of hypothyroidism, and tips for optimizing the breastfeeding experience.

Hypothyroidism: A quick overview

Hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by an underactive thyroid gland, meaning it produces insufficient amounts of thyroid hormones – thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones play a vital role in regulating the body's metabolism, energy, and temperature. When the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough of these hormones, it can lead to various symptoms, including fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, constipation, and sensitivity to colds.

There are several causes of hypothyroidism, such as autoimmune disease (Hashimoto's thyroiditis), iodine deficiency, radiation therapy, or thyroid surgery. Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed through blood tests measuring thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormone levels. Treatment usually involves daily hormone replacement therapy with synthetic or natural thyroid hormone (levothyroxine).

What are the effects of hypothyroidism on breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding and hypothyroidism connection

Hypothyroidism can potentially impact breastfeeding in several ways:

1. Milk supply

One of the primary concerns for breastfeeding mothers with hypothyroidism is the potential impact on milk supply. Untreated or inadequately treated hypothyroidism can lead to insufficient milk production, making it challenging to meet the baby's nutritional needs. This is because thyroid hormones are involved in the development and function of the mammary glands, which produce human breast milk.

2. Milk letdown

Hypothyroidism may also affect the milk letdown reflex, a crucial process in breastfeeding. When your baby begins to suckle, your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which triggers the letdown reflex – the release of milk from the mammary glands into the milk ducts. Hypothyroidism can interfere with the release of oxytocin, leading to a weak or delayed milk letdown.

3. Maternal well-being

The physical and emotional demands of breastfeeding can be challenging for any new mother. However, the symptoms of hypothyroidism, such as fatigue, low energy, and mood changes, can exacerbate these challenges. It's essential to ensure that your hypothyroidism is well-managed so that you can enjoy a positive breastfeeding experience.

How can you detect hypothyroidism while breastfeeding?

Dealing with hypothyroidism after pregnancy is a common experience for many women. As hormone levels can fluctuate during and after pregnancy, it's possible for new mothers to develop hypothyroidism or notice changes if they're already managing the condition.

It's important to remember that many symptoms of hypothyroidism can resemble typical postpartum experiences, such as fatigue, depression, and even breastfeeding-related issues.

Although it might be tempting to dismiss these symptoms as normal, if you're struggling with breastfeeding or producing milk and have any of the following signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, it's crucial to discuss them with your doctor:

  • Feeling tired

  • Feeling down or depressed

  • Loss of appetite

  • Sensitivity to cold temperatures

  • Hair thinning

  • Dry skin

  • A hoarse voice

Your doctor will likely do some tests to see your thyroid levels. However, diagnosing hypothyroidism while breastfeeding can be challenging due to hormonal fluctuations potentially affecting test results. Blood tests that measure thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormone levels can help detect thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism. To ensure accurate results, collaborate with your doctor r and consider the following suggestions:

  • Schedule blood tests consistently, preferably in the morning when hormone levels are most stable.

  • Inform your healthcare provider that you're breastfeeding, as this may affect their interpretation of test results.

If tests indicate that you have developed hypothyroidism or your hormone levels are out of balance, receiving the appropriate treatment or adjusting your medication can help improve your well-being and allow you to continue nursing successfully.

What are the risks of untreated hypothyroidism while breastfeeding?

Untreated hypothyroidism can have significant consequences for both the breastfeeding mother and the baby, especially during the critical period of breastfeeding. For the mother dealing with breastfeeding and thyroid issues, untreated hypothyroidism can intensify fatigue, mood changes, and other symptoms, making it challenging to care for the baby and maintain a healthy breastfeeding relationship. This can result in added stress and potential difficulties bonding with the baby.

For the baby, insufficient milk supply and potential changes in milk composition can result in inadequate nutrition. This, in turn, will hinder the baby's growth and development.

Therefore, it's crucial to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism promptly to ensure the well-being of both mother and baby. By staying proactive and working closely with your doctor, you can help ensure a healthy and successful breastfeeding experience for both you and your baby, even when you're dealing with a thyroid disease like hypothyroidism.

How can you manage hypothyroidism while breastfeeding?

A newborn baby

To manage hypothyroidism while breastfeeding, consider the following steps:

1. Team up with your healthcare provider

First things first, make sure you're working closely with your healthcare provider. They'll help you monitor your thyroid levels and give you the guidance you need to stay on top of your condition. Moreover, regular monitoring will help ensure that your thyroid hormone levels are within the optimal range for breastfeeding.

2. Know your treatment options

Dealing with hypothyroidism often involves thyroid hormone replacement therapy to help regulate your hormone levels. There are several common types of thyroid medications available, including:

  1. Levothyroxine - Levothyroxine is the most widely prescribed thyroid medication. It's a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone T4 (thyroxine), which your body converts into the active hormone T3 (triiodothyronine). Levothyroxine is typically well-tolerated and effectively restores normal thyroid hormone levels in most patients.

  2. Liothyronine - Liothyronine is a synthetic form of the active thyroid hormone T3. While less commonly prescribed than levothyroxine, liothyronine can be helpful for patients who have trouble converting T4 to T3 or who don't respond well to levothyroxine alone. However, liothyronine has a shorter half-life, which means it may require more frequent dosing and careful monitoring.

  3. Natural Desiccated Thyroid (NDT) - Natural desiccated thyroid, often preferred by some patients, is derived from the thyroid glands of pigs or cows. NDT contains a combination of T4 and T3 hormones, as well as other thyroid hormones like T1, T2., and Calcitonin. Some people find NDT more effective in relieving their symptoms compared to synthetic options, as it more closely mimics the natural hormone balance found in the human thyroid gland. You can buy desiccated thyroid online, such as VitaliThy.

It's crucial to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the best medication for your specific needs. Each individual's response to treatment can vary, and your healthcare provider can help you monitor your progress and adjust your medication as needed to find the optimal balance for your well-being.

3. Adjust medication dosage

If you've been diagnosed with hypothyroidism before you got pregnant, then your thyroid medication dosage may need adjustment during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Work with your healthcare provider to find the appropriate dosage to maintain healthy thyroid function and support your milk supply.

A dosage that is too low means your hypothyroidism is not adequately treated. Too high, on the other hand, can lead to hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid, which can be dangerous for you and your baby's health.

Other ways to support breastfeeding if you have hypothyroidism

Aside from sticking to your treatment plan, there are other ways you can manage hypothyroidism symptoms while breastfeeding. Here are some helpful tips to try:

  1. Breast compressions during feedings - Gently applying pressure to your breast during feedings can help propel milk from the breast, making it easier for your baby to get the milk they need.

  2. Breast massaging - Regularly massaging your breasts, starting from the outer edges and moving towards the nipple, can help release more milk and stimulate milk production.

  3. Pitocine/oxytocin nasal spray - In some cases, using a pitocine/oxytocin nasal spray might provide the extra hormone needed to help with milk ejection. Always consult your healthcare provider before trying this option.

  4. Prioritize self-care - Managing hypothyroidism symptoms while breastfeeding also includes taking care of yourself. Make sure to get enough rest, stay hydrated, and eat a balanced diet to keep your energy levels up and support milk production.

  5. Keep stress in check - Reducing stress is essential for your overall well-being. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga to help manage stress and maintain a positive breastfeeding experience.

  6. Seek support - Don't hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or support groups for encouragement and advice along your breastfeeding journey. Sharing your experiences and learning from others can make a significant difference in your success.

  7. Delay radioactive tests - If possible, try to postpone any radioactive tests or treatments related to thyroid cancer or other types of cancer until you're no longer breastfeeding. When a scan using radioactive material is necessary, ask your healthcare provider to use a radioactive material with the shortest half-life. This will minimize the interruption of breastfeeding and ensure the safety of both you and your baby.

By incorporating these tips into your routine, you can better manage hypothyroidism while breastfeeding and continue to provide the best nourishment for your baby.

Is it safe to take thyroid hormone replacement medication while breastfeeding?

Yes, it's generally considered safe to takethyroid hormone replacement medication while breastfeeding. These medications have a minimal transfer to breast milk and do not pose a risk to the baby. However, always consult your healthcare provider before starting or adjusting any medication while breastfeeding.

Conclusion: Managing hypothyroidism is crucial for breastfeeding mothers

Breastfeeding while managing hypothyroidism can be challenging, but with the right resources, support, and medical guidance, mothers can successfully nourish their babies and enjoy a fulfilling breastfeeding experience. By understanding the potential effects of hypothyroidism on breastfeeding, monitoring and treating the condition, and prioritizing self-care, mothers with hypothyroidism can confidently navigate their breastfeeding journey.

Wojciech Majda
Wojciech Majda

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