Our thyroid gland is a pretty remarkable organ in our bodies. That little butterfly-shaped organ is responsible for regulating our heart, metabolism, weight, temperature and many other essential processes in your body.
When it’s off balance, however, it can be detrimental for your health—especially during pregnancy. The reason for this is that the thyroid is one of the most important organs responsible for your baby’s brain development and growth.
“The thyroid hormone affects the function of virtually every system in our bodies, including the unborn fetus,” said Rashi Agarwal, MD, an endocrinologist with Banner Health Center in Arizona. “A baby’s thyroid begins to function at 10 to 12 weeks of gestation, so for the first half of the pregnancy, they depend on mother’s thyroid hormones for the critical initial development. It is important the mother’s thyroid function remains normal during this time.”
While exhaustion and weight gain are typical during pregnancy, if you suffer from Hashimoto’s disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you need to be especially mindful of these symptoms. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes cells in the body to unintentionally attack the thyroid gland. If left untreated, it can lead to miscarriage and a host of other complications.
“Left untreated, women are at an increased risk of severe preeclampsia, premature birth, placental abruption and, in severe cases, pregnancy loss can also occur,” Dr. Agarwal said. “For baby, it can lead to neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, large size for gestational age, and cognitive impairments with lower IQ or learning disabilities.”
Hashimoto and pregnancy
The good news is that if your thyroiditis is closely monitored and managed appropriately, “women typically have successful pregnancy outcomes,” Dr. Agarwal said.
If you are newly pregnant and have Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism, here are some tips to ensure a happy, healthy pregnancy.
See your OBGYN and endocrinologist as soon as you think you may be pregnant. It’s important to have your thyroid tested as soon as pregnancy is detected so your doctor can make any adjustments to keep your hormones at a normal range. Plan on having consistent, regular appointments to check your levels throughout your pregnancy.
“I actually tell my female patients (aspiring mothers) in the reproductive age group, that the first phone call can be to the dad, and the second one needs to be to me,” Dr. Agarwal said.
Don’t stop taking Levothyroxine, the thyroid medication used to treat Hashimoto’s, during pregnancy unless specifically instructed by your doctor. In pregnancy, low levels of thyroid hormones may harm your baby or even cause loss or miscarriage. You probably need a higher dose than usual to support your unborn baby’s development.
Eat a balanced diet and take prenatal vitamins. It may seem like common sense, but good nutrition is solid advice not only for pregnant women but everyone. It is also important to take prenatal vitamins as recommended by your treating physician.
However, be mindful of iodine supplements. Iodine, which is essential for normal thyroid hormone synthesis and function, may not be necessary.
“There’s no evidence that eating additional iodinated foods or supplements or avoiding certain foods has any additional benefits in a non-iodine deficient country like the U.S.,” Dr. Agarwal said. “In fact, too much iodine can have adverse effects in some people. If you have concerns, talk with your doctor first before taking a multivitamin with minerals.”
Dr. Agarwal also recommends that women take their thyroid medication on an empty stomach, away from coffee or food, and avoid taking it at the same time as prenatal vitamins, especially multivitamin and calcium supplements. This is because the minerals in the vitamins may stop the absorption of the thyroid hormone.
Rest assured: with the proper care, you can still have a healthy pregnancy and protect your baby. If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to speak with your treating physician.