Health

Postpartum Thyroiditis: All You Need to Know

By: Mary Shomon, Thyroid Expert
Postpartum-Thyroiditis-All-You-Need-to-Know

Average reading time: 3 minutes

Congratulations, you’re a new mom! If you’re like most new mothers, you’re too busy with middle of the night feedings, diaper changing, and simply marveling at your beautiful baby’s ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes to pay much attention to your health. 

Let’s face it: After childbirth, most of us are tired and brain fogged, not to mention toting around some extra baby weight we want to shed. It’s also normal to go through some anxiety and emotional ups and downs—especially if it’s your first baby!

But if you are going through extreme exhaustion, having a major problem sleeping, or anxiety and depression are making it hard to even care for your baby, you may be going through more than normal “baby blues”.

Here’s the deal: The hormonal demands of pregnancy and childbirth put your thyroid through the wringer. As a result, some new moms develop a temporary condition called postpartum thyroiditis. 

Your Risk for Postpartum Thyroiditis

Around 7% of women develop postpartum thyroiditis with no known risk factors. But your risk is much higher if:

Signs and Symptoms of Postpartum Thyroiditis

The signs and symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis are similar to (but usually far more intense than) the normal after-effects of childbirth. How do you know that you might have postpartum thyroiditis? 

Some other common symptoms include constipation or diarrhea, severely dry skin, puffiness in your hands or feet, puffiness around your eyes, dry eyes, and loss of outer eyebrow hair. 

Postpartum thyroiditis symptoms are like a seesaw. The condition usually starts off with a slowdown of your thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) in the weeks or months after childbirth. This is when everything is sluggish, your weight gets stuck, and you can feel tired, puffy, and down in the dumps. 

A few weeks or months later, the thyroid switches into overdrive (hyperthyroidism). You may lose weight rapidly or have insomnia. You can feel extremely anxious, with a rapid heart rate and even heart palpitations. 

Over time, many women will eventually see their thyroid swing back to normal (usually at around the one-year point after childbirth). The hypothyroid and hyperthyroid stages of postpartum thyroiditis can, however, be truly debilitating, and may warrant treatment to help you feel your best. 

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor for a thyroid check-up. It might be tempting for you—and your doctor—to write off many of these symptoms as “normal” for a new mother. When the symptoms are mild or temporary, they can be normal. But why risk having an undiagnosed case of postpartum thyroiditis, especially given the fact that you could feel this way for months (even up to a year!) after your baby is born? There’s no reason to suffer needlessly, especially at a time when you need your energy and focus for your new baby

Getting Diagnosed

Diagnosis of postpartum thyroiditis typically requires several tests: 

You’re looking for a pattern that suggests hyperthyroidism (lower TSH, higher Free T4, higher Free T3), or a pattern that suggests hypothyroidism (higher TSH, lower Free T4, lower Free T3). 

Because pregnancy can be a trigger for autoimmune thyroid disease, if your levels are borderline or out of the reference range, you should also have thyroid antibody tests. 

Treatment

If your symptoms are mild, and your levels aren’t outside the reference range, your doctor may recommend simply monitoring your thyroid. Over time, symptoms should become less noticeable and eventually your thyroid should return to normal. 

If your symptoms are debilitating and your blood tests show an imbalance, your doctor can prescribe treatments, including: 

IMPORTANT TIP: Because thyroid function fluctuates during the different phases of postpartum thyroiditis, you should have your thyroid levels checked often during your treatment for postpartum thyroiditis, so the dosage can be adjusted, or treatment stopped entirely when appropriate. 


UP NEXT: A GUIDE TO OPTIMIZING YOUR THYROID MEDICATION

Into the Future

Keep in mind that once you’ve had postpartum thyroiditis, you’re at a much higher risk of recurrence. Research shows that 70% of women with postpartum thyroiditis will get it again in a future pregnancy

Additionally, around 50% of women with postpartum thyroiditis end up developing full hypothyroidism. And it’s not necessarily going to happen in the year after childbirth—it may be up to several years later. 

Therefore, even if your postpartum thyroiditis is resolved, make sure that you still have a periodic thyroid exam from your doctor (along with a thyroid blood test panel) so that if you do develop hypothyroidism, you can be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. 

Mary-Shomon-Thyroid-Refresh

About the Author

Mary Shomon is a patient advocate and New York Times bestselling author of 13 books on health. Mary has been researching, writing and teaching about thyroid disease, hormonal health, weight loss, and autoimmune disease for two decades. In addition to her books, you can find her writing at www.Verywell.com and www.HealthCentral.com, and catch her PBS Healthy Hormones television specials. Follow Mary on Facebook.