Thyroid Disease and Its Effects on Breastfeeding

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). There is a condition called postpartum thyroiditis which includes both, a hyperthyroid phase and a hypothyroid phase.

Many mothers wonder if they will be able to breastfeed their baby if they are affected by either of the two thyroid conditions. While there is usually little problem with breastfeeding if the thyroid disease is well-controlled with medication, untreated hypothyroidism can reduce the supply of breast milk. It is essential to remember that thyroid medication should be continued while nursing.

Below is a list of symptoms that are visible in patients with hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

  • Fatigue
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Puffy face
  • Increase in blood cholesterol
  • Heavier and irregular menstrual periods

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

  • Heart palpitations
  • Anxiety
  • Trembling of hands and fingers
  • Increase in heat sensitivity
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue

If you exhibit any of the above symptoms while you’re breastfeeding, you should immediately get your thyroid levels tested.

How Do Childbirth and Breastfeeding Affect Thyroid Functioning?

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

A very common question that comes to mind is, “Can breastfeeding cause thyroid problems?” There is no doubt regarding the fact that breastfeeding is best for a baby’s growth.. But, in some cases, breastfeeding causes the thyroid gland to produce too much of the thyroid hormone. This may lead to postpartum thyroiditis, which usually resolves on its own and does not require prolonged medication. But if it exists for a longer duration, the doctor might 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 that work to control the levels of the thyroid hormone, mothers have no problems while nursing their baby.

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

mother breastfeeding a baby

Does Thyroid Disease Affect Your Breast Milk Production?

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

As the thyroid hormone play a role in helping the breasts secrete milk, the supply of milk is affected if the mother has hypothyroidism. However, women who are properly treated for hypothyroidism have no problem with milk supply.

If you were being treated for hyperthyroidism before pregnancy and your thyroid level has changed along with other body changes after pregnancy, then an overactive thyroid may cause an excess supply of breast milk. If the breasts become engorged and milk production does not slow down, it requires medical intervention.

Breastfeeding With Hypothyroidism

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

Hypothyroidism

Breastfeeding With Hyperthyroidism

There are many cases of women with hyperthyroidism, but some doctors believe that women should be encouraged to breastfeed despite ongoing treatment. Doctors recommend careful monitoring of the infant’s thyroid functioning during the period of breastfeeding. When a Prescribing antithyroid medicines in low doses generally does not affect the baby much. If the treatment involves radioactive iodine or surgery, then it is advised to wean the baby and keep him away from harm.

What Tests Should Be Taken to Diagnose a Thyroid Condition?

1. T4 and TSH Test

Doctors usually recommend taking the T4 test (also known as thyroxine test) and TSH test to check the levels of the thyroid hormone in the body. While the T4 test indicates an overactive thyroid, the latter measures the levels of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. The normal range is from 0.4 to 4.0 mIU/L (milli-international units of hormone per liter of blood).

2. T3 Test

This test is usually advised if the former tests suggest a condition of hyperthyroidism. The T3 test checks the levels of the hormone triiodothyronine. The normal range for T3 is 100–200 nanograms of hormone per deciliter of blood (ng/dL).

Is a Thyroid Scan Safe While Breastfeeding?

A thyroid scan is conducted to see if the patient has postpartum thyroiditis or Graves’ disease which can cause hyperthyroidism. A thyroid scan is not recommended at all during the breastfeeding months, as radioactive iodine can pass into the milk for weeks and concentrate in the baby’s thyroid. Nursing mothers should ask the doctor about any alternative diagnostic procedure. If it is something you cannot do away with, you should ask if you can have a thyroid scan with technetium which is safer than radioactive iodine.

Is It Safe to Take Radioactive Iodine While Breastfeeding?

If hyperthyroidism in a patient is long-standing and difficult to control with medication, radioactive iodine or surgery is the recommended treatment. Radioactive iodine should not be combined with breastfeeding as it can accumulate and remain in the breasts for several weeks.

If a mother is on antithyroid drugs, it is advisable to monitor the breastfeeding infant every three months. However, a moderate quantity of drugs 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?

Too much thyroid medication is identical to an overactive thyroid gland. When too much thyroid hormone circulates in the body and operates in a hypermetabolic state, increased appetite, increased heart rate and frequent bowel movements occur. Excessive intake of thyroid medication also results in heat production and a lot of sweating. Other effects are insomnia, anxiety, muscle weakness, fatigue, hair loss, and a lack of concentration.

Can Breastfeeding Prevent Thyroid Disease?

There is enough evidence that breastfeeding can help to prevent thyroid problems in both the mom and the baby. Regular breastfeeding can prevent autoimmune thyroid disease as well as thyroid cancer.

Thyroid disorders, though not uncommon, can play havoc in a woman’s life both before and after pregnancy. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism both have their own consequences, but it’s reassuring to know that many people are able to breastfeed normally and safely while taking medication. With optimal treatment, most issues related to these two conditions can be resolved. Hence, you should go for a thyroid evaluation at regular intervals after childbirth.

Also Read: Pain during Breastfeeding