Feeling foggy, anxious, and fatigued after having a baby is par for the course. The change of routine, the hormone chaos, the physical recovery—it’s an understatement to say you’ve been through a lot. Sometimes, however, there may be even more to the story.
About 5% of women experience postpartum thyroiditis (PPT), a relatively rare condition where your thyroid becomes inflamed post-pregnancy.
So what exactly is this condition, and how can you tell if this is what you’re experiencing?
For starters, here’s a quick spin around what your thyroid is and how it works.
In this article 📝
- What’s the thyroid?
- Postpartum thyroiditis FAQs
- How long does postpartum thyroiditis last?
- Postpartum thyroiditis and breastfeeding?
- How is postpartum thyroiditis diagnosed?
- What does postpartum thyroiditis feel like?
- Postpartum thyroiditis symptoms
- Postpartum thyroiditis treatment
What’s the thyroid?
A small gland in the shape of a butterfly that’s found at the front of the base of your neck, your thyroid uses iodine from the food you eat to produce two hormones: T3 (AKA triiodothyronine) and T4 (AKA thyroxine).
These hormones travel through your bloodstream to every tissue in your body and play an important role in how your major systems function.
They also have a bearing on how your body regulates your temperature and uses energy.
That means that when your thyroid isn’t functioning as it should, you can feel pretty out of sorts in several ways.
This can be challenging at the best of times—and particularly so when you have a newborn to care for.
Postpartum thyroiditis FAQs
PPT takes different paths. In what’s known as classic PPT, you’ll go through two distinct phases of the condition within about the first year after you give birth:
Thyrotoxicosis after pregnancy. This is when you have too much thyroid hormone circulating in your system. There’s a chance that you may not feel anything during this phase and that your thyroid will go back to normal functioning on its own. But, in some cases, thyrotoxicosis can cause some damage to your thyroid, which will then lead to it slowing down. The result is hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroid after pregnancy. Hypothyroidism is a condition caused by having an underactive thyroid. This means your thyroid isn’t producing enough of its hormones for them to fulfill all the important jobs they have to do, leaving you feeling far less than your best.
You may also only have isolated thyrotoxicosis or isolated hypothyroidism, where you only experience one of these phases.
How long does postpartum thyroiditis last?
Isolated thyrotoxicosis usually starts somewhere between two and six months after you give birth.
Isolated hypothyroidism occurs anywhere from three to twelve months post-pregnancy.
As many as 48% of PPT cases skip the thyrotoxicosis phase and go straight to hypothyroidism.
Most times, your thyroid should return to normal within about a year to 18 months of developing postpartum thyroiditis.
Sometimes, though, you may have to manage a more long-term condition.
Postpartum thyroiditis and breastfeeding?
PPT can make breastfeeding a challenge in various ways.
With hypothyroidism, it may get in the way of your milk flow.
If this is the case for you, working with your doctor (and possibly a lactation specialist) can help you navigate your unique journey through this.
On the other end of the spectrum, an overactive thyroid may cause you to produce more milk than you need.
If you find that you have excess, pumping after each feed can help you relieve the pain and discomfort of engorgement.
How is postpartum thyroiditis diagnosed?
Your doctor will go through your symptoms and history with you and do a blood test to check for levels of your thyroid hormones.
You’re more vulnerable to PPT if you’ve had thyroid issues before, or if they run in your family.
If you have it once, there’s a 70% chance it will occur again in future pregnancies.
If you have type 1 diabetes, lupus, or chronic hepatitis, you are also more likely to develop postpartum thyroiditis. PPT appears to be related to an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, too.
We also know that if you have what are known as antithyroid antibodies in your system pre-pregnancy, you’re much more likely to be at risk of postpartum thyroiditis.
In about 50% of cases of PPT, these antibodies are present in the first trimester. If you’re concerned, chat to your healthcare provider about screening procedures.
What does postpartum thyroiditis feel like?
Because there are different PPT paths, there’s no one blanket experience.
You may experience different symptoms depending on where you’re at in the journey.
Postpartum thyroiditis symptoms
While thyrotoxicosis and hypothyroidism have different effects on your body, they share some similar symptoms. These include:
- Fatigue. Yep, it’s a biggie. And coupled with the challenges of new mamahood, it can feel debilitating.
- Postpartum thyroiditis hair loss. Many new mamas experience some hair loss as a result of dropping estrogen levels. If your hair loss feels excessive, it’s worth talking to your doctor about.
- Mood fluctuation that may lead to feelings of depression and anxiety. (And while we’re here, there are so many reasons your emotions might feel all over the place at this point. Postpartum depression is one of them—and it requires treatment. Reach out to your healthcare provider. Help is available. And there’s also a whole community on Peanut that’s ready to support you through this.)
Then there are some specific symptoms you may experience, depending on whether you have thyrotoxicosis or hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of thyrotoxicosis after pregnancy are like those you might experience if you have an overactive thyroid (AKA hyperthyroidism). These include:
- Heart palpitations
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling warm
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Difficulty focussing
The symptoms of hypothyroidism after pregnancy include:
- Feeling cold
- Feeling “puffy” in your face and hands
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramps
- Weight gain (or struggles losing weight)
- Brain fog
Postpartum thyroiditis treatment
Your healthcare provider will work with you to figure out the best course of treatment for your specific situation.
If you’re experiencing major symptoms related to an underactive thyroid, your doctor may prescribe thyroid hormone replacement treatment. You might need to take this medication for about 12 months, with frequent thyroid tests in between.
For an overactive thyroid, you may need some medication to bring down your heart rate and help you with some of the other symptoms you’re experiencing. Common medications for this are beta-blockers and prednisone.
The bottom line? If you’re not feeling yourself, check-in with your healthcare provider.
You don’t have to write it off as just one of the challenges of early mamahood.
You are important. Your health is important. Getting the treatment you need is important.
Good luck, mama.
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25 Postpartum Essentials to Know About
How to Deal With Postpartum Gas
10 Ideas for a Nutritious Postpartum Diet
A Guide to the Best Types of Postpartum Massage
Postpartum Exercise Tips
An Intro to Postpartum Yoga
What are the Possible Postpartum Complications?
Postpartum Hemorrhoids: What You Need to Know
What’s Causing My Postpartum Headache?
Your (Realistic) Postpartum Workout Plan
What to Do About a Postpartum Rash
How to Manage Postpartum Hypertension
What are the Best Postpartum Pads?