How to Manage Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy
For a woman, the prospect of having both hypothyroidism and pregnancy can be a worrying scenario. Hypothyroidism is a condition that must be regularly managed with the use of medication, but for a woman that wants to become pregnant, or who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, there may be a lot of concern about how her condition can affect her unborn baby as well as herself. If you have hypothyroidism and pregnancy is starting to seem too risky, then you might take a moment to learn a bit more about this condition and how it can affect your body and your baby during pregnancy.
How Hypothyroidism affects Your Body
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce as much thyroid hormone as it should. The thyroid gland is located in the neck and lies over the front of the trachea. The thyroid hormones are very important to your body and because they have a hand in so many different processes all throughout the body the effects of having an underactive thyroid can be significant. Thyroid hormones have a direct effect on the body’s metabolism and if there aren’t enough of the necessary thyroid hormones circulating throughout the blood then the basic result will be a slow metabolism.
The symptoms that can be associated with hypothyroidism include severe fatigue or the feeling that you just don’t have any energy, joint and/or muscle pain, feeling cold, dry skin, paleness, brittle hair, skin, and nails, unexplained weight gain, and constipation. Hypothyroidism can be caused by a number of things, including overactive immune system (which attacks the thyroid gland) and pregnancy (postpartum thyroiditis). Research shows that individuals who have a family history of hypothyroidism are at a greater risk of developing this condition.
Pregnancy and the Thyroid Gland
Pregnancy has a huge effect on the thyroid gland which is why it isn’t uncommon for women to suddenly develop hypothyroidism during or after pregnancy. This is a condition that is called postpartum thyroiditis. In a normal pregnancy where a woman does not suffer from hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland can be expected to swell up by about 10 percent. During pregnancy, the thyroid produces about 50 percent more thyroxine, or T4, and triiodothyronine, or T3. In order to fuel this heavy increase in hormone production, the thyroid gland will need one and a half times the daily recommended amount of iodine, which is a 50 percent increase than what a woman would typically need outside of pregnancy! As you case see, the thyroid gland has to work at an increased rate in order to enable mom-to-be to maintain a healthy metabolism while her body is busy building and sustaining her unborn baby.
Hypothyroidism and Pregnancy
The presence of hypothyroidism during pregnancy does not necessarily mean that the pregnancy will be “a bad one,” but as you can tell after reading the last section, the already-struggling thyroid will suddenly be exposed to a heavier workload during pregnancy. –But don’t let this put you off of having a baby if you really want one. There is a chance that you may not experience any abnormal effects as a result of your thyroid condition.
That being said, it’s definitely a good idea to consider the pregnancy risks and symptoms that can be caused by hypothyroidism before you try to conceive, if possible. The time when your baby would likely be affected by your thyroid condition would be between conception and week 12. During this time, your baby’s own thyroid gland would still be forming so all of his or her thyroid hormone needs would have to be satisfied by your body. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for women to be unaware that they are even pregnant during this time, and therefore will not have taken special measures to compensate for the greater demand placed upon their thyroid gland. The possible risk of such a situation could be that the baby has a slower-than-average development rate of motor skills. As the pregnancy progresses, the baby would be more at risk of suffering from mental impairments, rather than physical ones.
As for your own body, you may notice the typical symptoms of underactive thyroid—as if you forgot to take medication for a day or two. Tiredness or weakness, dry skin, and joint/muscle pain are already symptoms that are associated with pregnancy but they may be exacerbated if your thyroid is struggling to produce a sufficient amount of hormones for you and your baby.
Managing the Condition during Pregnancy
The first step with hypothyroidism and pregnancy is to see an endocrinologist. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism in the past then you probably have an “endo” that you see with semi-regularity. Your doctor will be able to compare the history of your medical condition to your thyroid’s current state to determine what kind of treatment would be best in your current situation. The most likely form of treatment is the same as it is normally, when pregnancy isn’t a factor, which means taking hormone medication to supplement what the thyroid gland can’t produce. If you suffered from this condition before pregnancy then you may simply need to have your dosage increased and be sure to check back with your endocrinologist every month and a half or so.