Thyroid Health and Pregnancy: What You Need To Know
The thyroid gland is the master gland of the human body and it is in charge of the production and regulation of sex hormones. Pregnancy ignites a lot of changes in a woman’s body, including changes to her thyroid function - and low thyroid function can negatively affect pregnancy (such as miscarriages and infertility). The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate metabolism, so it is critical to keep it healthy during pregnancy.
Thyroid hormones increase during pregnancy.
The increase in thyroid hormones can be due to the extra demand for thyroid hormone production by the growing fetus - and the maternal thyroid gland needs to produce more thyroid hormone to meet this demand. This sudden new request for thyroid hormones can cause some mothers to develop hypothyroidism during pregnancy as the fetus’ demand can exhaust the thyroid.
The magnitude of the increase in thyroid hormones during pregnancy varies among women and depends on factors such as the trimester of pregnancy, the maternal thyroid status before pregnancy, and the number of fetuses. Typically, there is a gradual increase in thyroid hormone levels during the first trimester, followed by a more substantial increase during the second and third trimesters.
Thyroid Disorders and Pregnancy
Two main thyroid disorders can occur during pregnancy: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, and hyperthyroidism is when the gland produces too much hormone. Both of these conditions can cause problems for a developing fetus and the mother. Many women cross paths with Hashimoto's Disease during or after pregnancy (Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disease that affects thyroid function)
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) in Pregnancy
- Abnormal Weight gain
- Cold intolerance / Low Body Temperature
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) in Pregnancy
- Weight loss
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased sweating
- Increased bowel frequency
Treatment of Thyroid Disorders in Pregnancy
For hypothyroidism, the patient will need to take the proper daily dose of thyroid hormone replacement medication that is right for them. For hyperthyroidism, the treatment may involve antithyroid medications or radioactive iodine. A pregnant person will need to get regular blood tests to monitor thyroid hormone levels so the treatment can be adjusted (if necessary) as the pregnancy progresses. Some pregnant people may need more thyroid hormone replacement during pregnancy (and possibly right from the get-go!). Thyroid levels should be tested and monitored more frequently than in non-pregnant hypothyroid patients in order to ensure that their thyroid hormone medication is keeping up with the demands of the fetus and mother.
Preventing Thyroid Disorders in Pregnancy
To prevent thyroid disorders during pregnancy, it is important to eat a healthy whole-food diet (I recommend a Paleo strategy but speak with your doctor on what is right for you), exercise regularly, and manage stress levels. You should also avoid exposure to environmental toxins, such as lead and mercury, that can disrupt thyroid function. If you can plan your pregnancy, consider a full body detox first and also optimize thyroid and nutrient levels before getting pregnant. Functional Medicine M.D.s and health practitioners are very skilled in testing and assessing health in a comprehensive light.
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