Thyroid health in mums for healthy babies
Optimizing thyroid health is so important for minimising the risk of miscarriage as well as ensuring good development of a baby’s brain which will prevent risk of autism and ADHD.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the front of the neck. The thyroid is responsible for the speed of every metabolic pathway in the body. It helps to regulate metabolism, reflex speeds, energy production, menstruation, fertility, and so much more.
How are the thyroid hormones made?
When the brain senses a drop in thyroid hormone levels in the blood, it sends a signal to the thyroid gland, letting the thyroid know it’s time to make more hormone. This signal is called thyroid stimulating hormone,
Once the thyroid receives the TSH signal, it is then stimulated to make thyroid hormone T4, which will convert into T3.
T3 is the active form of the hormone and is produced in small amounts. T4, the inactive form of the hormone, is made in larger amounts (about 4 times as much as T3). As the body needs more T3 to fuel its functions it turns the T4 into T3.
Thyroid problems can result in over-functioning of thyroid hormone (called hypERthyroidism) or in under-functioning of the gland (called hypOthyroidism).
Hypothyroidism is becoming more and more an epidemic with our modernised diet and lifestyle and can be caused by:
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Halide toxicity
- Autoimmunity (Hashimito’s or Grave’s disease)
- Stress and adrenal fatigue
- Trauma to the thyroid
- Poor digestion
- Poor liver health
Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune diseases are the biggest causes of thyroid conditions and are more common in women – and even more commonly in pregnant and postpartum mums. Therefore, it is paramount to screen a woman’s thyroid health before she attempts to conceive, throughout her pregnancy, and then again after her baby is born.
What are the Signs of Hypothyroidism?
Because the thyroid controls so many functions in the body, the signs of hypothyroidism can crop up in just about any system. Common symptoms include:
- Brain fog or poor memory
- Poor mood
- Constipation or digestive disturbances
- Difficulty losing weight or unexplained weight gain
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Hair fall
- Thinning of the eyebrows
- Feeling cold all the time
- Carpal tunnel or other nerve irritation
- Heavy or irregular periods
- High cholesterol levels
- Puffiness of the face and tongue
Thyroid Health and Fertility
Thyroid health has a huge impact on menstruation, ovulation, and fertility. For this reason, I encourage every woman to get her thyroid levels checked before she becomes pregnant. Having a TSH of 2.5 or less will make it much easier to conceive, and keeping it there through the first trimester will significantly lower the risk of miscarriage. Even if women doing IVF, having optimal thyroid health improves the chances of the IVF working. Keeping TSH at 3 or less during the second and third trimesters further helps ensure a healthy baby.
Mums Thyroid Influences Baby’s Health
Optimising a pregnant mother’s thyroid function not only decreases her chance of a miscarriage but it also helps ensure the healthy development of her baby’s brain. If a mum has uncontrolled Hashimoto’s during pregnancy, the antibodies associated with the disease can wreak havoc on her baby. Women with active autoimmune diseases during pregnancy are more likely to deliver babies with learning disabilities and autism diagnosed in childhood.
Thyroid Health and Postpartum
It’s possible for Hashimoto’s to present in the postpartum period – even in women who had healthy thyroids through pregnancy. In fact, my practice is full of exhausted, depressed moms who have been told by their other doctors, “Your TSH looks fine, there’s nothing wrong with you, motherhood is just really hard sometimes,” when in fact their thyroid antibodies were through the roof and they had a real disease with very real symptoms.
These women unnecessarily feel that they are crazy, weak, or not good enough for having such a hard time with motherhood. Many of them are placed on anti-depressants when what they really need is a little love for their thyroids
Comprehensive testing and careful consideration of a woman’s symptoms are imperative. There is absolutely no reason a woman should suffer because her doctor didn’t have two extra minutes to talk with her and check a few more boxes on a lab test order form!
Necessary tests for thyroid health
This is the minimum thyroid screening I recommend to my patients. These tests can be ordered directly through me and only a simple blood draw is necessary:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Thyroid Peroxidase Antibodies (TPOAb)
- Thyroglobulin Antibodies (TgAb)
- Thyroid Receptor Antibodies
- Reverse T3
Sadly, most conventional doctors only check TSH and never actually assess the levels of hormone produced by the actual gland. This can result in the under diagnosis of thyroid disorders. (Yes, I see normal TSH’s all the time with abnormal results on the other tests!)
Due to better outreach on this issue, some doctors are now expanding their scope of ordering to include TSH, free T3, and free T4, but even this “expanded” test panel can miss Hashimoto’s. Many times I have seen these tests be perfectly normal but in the meantime their antibody levels were through the roof!
It’s entirely possible to have Hashimoto’s and still have a “normal thyroid hormones.” (Indeed, this is yet another example of how a naturopathic physician can catch problems missed entirely by an endocrinologist!)
Mums (and their babies) deserve better care.
Catching and treating thyroid imbalances can help a woman conceive, stay pregnant, deliver a healthy baby, and survive the postpartum period. It can also help her child avoid learning disabilities and autism later in life.
In some cases medication (pharmaceutical T3 and/or T4 hormone or natural desiccated thyroid hormone) may be necessary, but often times thyroid health can improve through eating a nutritionally-dense diet (iodine, selenium, and zinc are essential!), supplementing vitamin D3, changing the diet, and steering clear of thyroid-toxic chemicals such as heavy metals, chlorine, bromide, and even the fluoride added to municipal drinking water. (A good quality water filter should be in every household!)
Another important factor for optimizing thyroid health is stress reduction. Refusing to check work e-mails after 5pm, taking a hot bath, paying somebody else to clean the house, getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and going on vacation are all great ways to support healthy hormones.
Call now to see if alternative treatment can help you improve your health and the health of your baby.
Tiaan holds a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathic Medicine, as well as certificates in Nutrition for Autism and ADHD and Paediatrics.