What New Moms Need to Know About Thyroid Disease

The postpartum recovery period can be rough, and can last for a year or more after your baby is born. Your body goes through monumental changes during pregnancy and childbirth, and even more when it’s trying to recover. You’ll go through weight loss and gain, hair loss, skin changes, and of course, seemingly unending fatigue. All of these postpartum symptoms are indeed normal, but they can also mask an underlying issue. Approximately 5-10% of postpartum women will be diagnosed with a thyroid disease called postpartum thyroiditis. While it’s not life-threatening or even permanent in the majority of cases, it can be difficult to live with. And because the symptoms are often mistaken for normal postpartum recovery, it tends to be overlooked by medical professionals.

New moms without a history of thyroid disease can develop postpartum thyroiditis.

Postpartum thyroiditis symptoms can mimic those of an under- or over-active thyroid, and will look different for different women. Almost half of women who develop PPT will experience symptoms of an under-active thyroid. These symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, memory problems, constipation, and even depression. Some women may exhibit symptoms of an overactive thyroid, which can include fatigue, palpitations, weight loss, heat intolerance, and irritability. Hyperthyroidism in PPT usually occurs within the first six months after your baby is born, and can last 1-2 months. But it is much more common for women to present in the hypothyroid phase, which usually happens 4-8 months postpartum, and can last for nine months or longer.

Those all sound like your typical postpartum symptoms, right?

Therein lies the problem. Because many women just assume what they’re experiencing is part of postpartum recovery, they may not even think to bring it to their doctor’s attention. Especially if you don’t have a history of thyroid disease or thyroid issues. Women with a history of thyroid disease or dysfunction are at higher risk of developing PPT, and they may be aware of what to look for. In any case, PPT is often missed or overlooked.

Luckily, PPT will usually resolve on its own, and many women don’t even need treatment.

If your symptoms are mild, treatment may not be necessary. For women in the hyperthyroid phase, your doctor may prescribe blockers to manage your symptoms (palpitations, tremors, etc.). If you suffer from hypothyroid PPT, your doctor may start you on a synthetic hormone replacement, which can be tapered off after 6-12 months. But many women’s symptoms are so mild or manageable that no treatment at all is necessary. PPT is a transient condition, and 80% of women will regain normal thyroid function in about a year. But diagnosis is important, especially because 20% of women with PPT with experience a recurrence in subsequent pregnancies.

If you’ve just a had baby and feel like some of what you’re experiencing can’t be explained as just “normal” postpartum recovery, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor about having your thyroid checked.

(Image: iStock/ChesiireCat)

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