Thyroid Disease and Its Effects on Breastfeeding

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Thyroid disease in women

The main function of the thyroid gland is to make hormones which help in the growth and normal functioning of the body and also breastfeeding. Thyroid diseases include hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Another condition is called postpartum thyroiditis which includes both a hyperthyroid phase and then hypothyroid phase.

Thyroid disease is very common in women, and many of them feel uncertain whether they will be able to breastfeed their baby if they are affected by any of the two thyroid diseases. There is usually less problem with breastfeeding if the thyroid disease is well controlled with medication. Inadequately treated hypothyroidism can reduce the supply of breast milk. It is essential to remember that thyroid medications should be continued while nursing.

How Childbirth and Breastfeeding Affect Thyroid Functions?

It is important to know that at the time of childbirth or even through pregnancy, a woman’s body goes through major hormonal shifts. These changes lead to the changes in the thyroid function. Some have thyroid disorders before giving birth, and some develop this problem in the months after childbirth.

A very common question that comes to one’s mind is, “can breastfeeding cause thyroid problems?” There can be no contention regarding the fact that breastfeeding is best for the baby’s growth. Also, nursing helps a woman to return to normal quickly and easily. In some cases, breastfeeding causes the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone in the new mom. This is called postpartum thyroiditis which usually gets resolved and does not require prolonged medication. But if it exists for a longer duration, the doctors prescribe a low dose of medication.

Can You Breastfeed While Having a Thyroid Problem?

Some breastfeeding mothers with hypothyroidism struggle to provide adequate milk supply to nourish the baby. When thyroid hormones are not produced in enough quantity, the mother’s supply of milk gets affected. With the aid of medicines which work on the levels of thyroid hormone, mothers have no problems while nursing their baby.

If hyperthyroidism is due to postpartum thyroiditis, it gradually settles, and no medication is required. Hyperthyroidism is generally treated with antithyroid drugs which reduce the amount of hormone being made. Breastfeeding with hyperthyroidism can be very challenging. If the treatment had started before pregnancy, then the doctor should monitor it throughout pregnancy and adjust the medication after pregnancy. Overactive thyroid sometimes causes slow or difficult let-down reflex and an abundant supply of milk which can be controlled with the help of proper medication.

A woman breastfeeding

Does Thyroid Disease Affect Your Breastmilk Production?

Thyroid disease while breastfeeding does affect the milk supply in a mother’s body. If the thyroid disorder is postpartum, mild hyperthyroidism is followed by hypothyroidism and gradually gets resolved. In such cases, mothers do not face major problems.

As it is known that thyroid hormones play a role in helping breasts secrete milk, the supply of milk is affected in cases where the mother has hypothyroid problems. Women who are properly treated for hypothyroidism have no problem with the milk supply.

However, if you were being treated for hyperthyroidism before pregnancy, and as thyroid levels change as the body changes after pregnancy, the overactive thyroid may cause the abundant supply of breastmilk. The breast becomes engorged, and the milk production does not slow down which requires medical intervention.

Breastfeeding with Hypothyroidism

Some breastfeeding mothers take medicines to treat the thyroid disease and safely continue to breastfeed. If the medication dose is adjusted to maintain normal thyroid hormone levels, then the mothers can nurse their babies to their heart’s content. Hence, hypothyroidism during breastfeeding is quite safe for any newborn baby.

Hypothyroidism

Breastfeeding with Hyperthyroidism

There are many cases of women with hyperthyroidism, but the current thought is that women should be encouraged to breastfeed despite treatment. Doctors recommend careful monitoring of the infant’s thyroid function during the period of breastfeeding. When a mother is prescribed anti-thyroid meds in low doses, it generally does not affect the baby much. If the treatment involves radioactive iodine or surgery, then it is advised to wean the baby to keep away from any harm to the baby.

Is Thyroid Scan Safe While Breastfeeding?

A thyroid scan is conducted to see if the patient has postpartum thyroiditis or Graves’ disease called Hyperthyroidism. A thyroid scan is just not recommended at all during breastfeeding months as the radioactive iodine passes into the milk for weeks and can concentrate in a baby’s thyroid. Nursing mothers should ask the doctor about any alternative diagnostic procedure. And if it is something that you cannot do away it, then you should ask if you can have a thyroid scan with technetium which is safer than radioactive iodine. A mother can safely nurse her baby without concern then.

Should You Avoid Taking Thyroid Medication during Lactation?

Nursing mothers should try as far as possible to avoid taking thyroid medication while breastfeeding as it sometimes causes thyroid suppression and goitre in the nursing infant.

Is It Safe to Take Radioactive Iodine While Breastfeeding?

If hyperthyroidism in a patient is long-standing, radioactive iodine or surgery is the treatment if the condition is difficult to control with medication. Radioactive iodine as part of a treatment or scan should not be combined with breastfeeding as the radioactive iodine accumulates and remains in the breast for several weeks.

If a mother is on antithyroid drugs, it is advisable to have careful monitoring of the breastfeeding infant after every three months. A moderate quantity of drug administered to the mother is quite safe for the child. There are some doctors who claim that the baby might suffer from potential thyroid side effects if the mother continues nursing the child.

What If You Take Too Much Thyroid Medication?

Many people suffer from thyroid disorders. Few medicines are also contraindicated during the period of breastfeeding. Too much thyroid medication is identical to the overactive thyroid gland, which is called hyperthyroidism. There are many symptoms which indicate over medication. It may cause the heart rate to speed up. When too much thyroid hormone circulates in the body, and it operates in a hypermetabolic state, increased appetite and frequent bowel movements occur. Excess of thyroid medication results in heat production and the body responds by sweating a lot. The other effects are insomnia, anxiety, muscle weakness, fatigue, hair loss, and lack of concentration.

Can Breastfeeding Prevent Thyroid Disease?

There is enough evidence that breastfeeding can help prevent thyroid problems in mom and the baby. Regular breastfeeding can prevent autoimmune thyroid disease as well as thyroid cancer. It is common for women to feel frustrated while nursing with or without a thyroid disease but consulting a lactation consultant will be the best option.

Thyroid disorders, though not uncommon, play an important role in the life of a pregnant mother and then in the new mom’s life after pregnancy. The two kinds of disorders have their own consequences, but it’s reassuring that many people are able to take their medication and breastfeed without any problems. Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism require medical aid in moderate or liberal amounts. With optimal treatment, most of the issues related to the two conditions are resolved. Hence one should have a thyroid evaluation at regular intervals so that any changes in the thyroid function will warrant a change in the medication dosage.

Also Read: Pain during Breastfeeding

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