Do you have a hypothyroid and worry that you won’t be able to breastfeed?
I am a mum with a hypothyroid and have been breastfeeding with no supply issues for over 5 years now, and have tandem fed, and donated many many litres of breastmilk to other families since beginning my breastfeeding journey. I am not a medical professional with specialist training in the endocrine system, thyroids or lactation. This post is about myself and my own experiences and is not meant to replace qualified advice.
But I have had a very successful breastfeeding journey, despite living with a hypothyroid. I am feel good and have plenty of energy in my day to day life which is more than what many hypothyroid sufferers can say, let alone hypothyroid breastfeeders. I’m not not drastically overweigh either (I have a BMI of 26, which is just outside of the upper end of a normal, healthy weight, and considering I am a breastfeeding mum, I think I can be afforded a little leeway here). I want to share what I have learned and what I believe in the hopes that it will help other mums breastfeed confidently with a hypothyroid.
When I first started having thyroid issues, my GP explained, in the most basic of terms, that my thyroid is a gland that controls my metabolism – my body’s ability to produce energy. If your thyroid is underactive, then then you will suffer symptoms associated with a slow metabolism, like:
– weight gain, and difficulty losing weight
– fatigue and weakness
– muscle pain and cramps (I get these in my thighs and calves a lot)
– hair loss
– depression, irritability, anxiety and decreased libido
– inability to tolerate cold
Although it’s known that a hypothyroid can hamper successful milk production, there’s little information about how or why this is. In my own mind though, it feels quite logical. If my body is working overtime to produce enough energy to keep me alive, it stands to reason that there’s probably not going to be enough energy left to wholly sustain another life through breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding your baby on demand, avoiding any tactics or techniques to reduce or delay breastfeeds, and avoiding supplementation where possible should go without saying for any breastfeeding mum, so they don’t make my list. My points below don’t include basic breastfeeding information – they are more about how to best look after your thyroid to give yourself the best chance at a successful breastfeeding journey.
1 – See the right doctor
I believe a big factor for my success is the way my hypothyroid is managed. I have an excellent GP, and I trust his judgement completely. However he acknowledges that thyroid issues are a specialist area, so he referred me to a brilliant endocrinologist too. Whenever I think something is up, I see my GP as my first port of call, however he consults with my endocrinologist and keeps him up to date. There have been times when my GP told me my blood levels were good, only to call me back in a few days later because my endocrinologist checked my notes and wants me to increase my medication. As much as I value and respect my GP, if I didn’t also see an endocrinologist, I think my situation would be very different.
2 – Don’t ignore symptoms
It’s not normal to be drained and exhausted. Yes, becoming a mum is tiring, and it’s inevitable that you won’t always get enough sleep. But if you are so tired that you always wake up feeling worse than you did when you went to sleep, or that you struggle to get out of bed even to meet your baby’s needs, that’s a good reason to check in with your doctor. Same goes with your mental health. Becoming a mum is a big deal, and it’s normal to experience some unexpected feelings. It’s even normal to feel overwhelmed and out of your depth. But it’s important to be able to recognise when you have passed a normal emotional rollercoaster and are dealing with something more. There are some really good online checklists (like this one) that can help you ascertain whether it might be time to seek extra help.
3 – Review your blood levels and medication regularly
After the birth of my son, I had a follow-up appointment with my endocrinologist. My GP had said that my thyroid hormone levels were in the normal range, but I was still feeling quite fatigued. My endocrinologist agreed that the hypothyroid symptoms warranted a medication increase. He said the “normal” range is right for most people, but there will always be exceptions. Every person in this whole world is unique and sometimes, for whatever reason, we don’t fall into the “normal” range. I am very grateful that I have a specialist that looks at my situation as a whole, and not just the numbers on my blood test result.
4 – Take your medication properly
Did you know that, besides taking the right amount of medication each day, you should also:
- Take tablets at least 4 hours after eating last
- Take tablets at least half an hour before eating again
- Not take tablets with other medication
Failing to take any medication correctly can cause you trouble, but failing to take your thyroid medication properly can make you feel seriously crappy, which is the last thing you need when you’re trying to parent as well. I am not a routine person at all, but getting serious with my medication is easy – I have a pillbox so I can swallow my tablets without thinking about it as soon as I wake up. I go to the bathroom, change my daughter’s nappy and whatever else before I eat my breakfast. When I’ve had to take antibiotics or other medication, I took them at other times. When I was on the contraceptive pill, I took it at night.
5 – If you need to supplement
I have never had to supplement, but I have seen many mums fall down the slippery slope that one or two bottles a day can lead to. If breastfeeding is important to you, but your baby isn’t having appropriate nappy output, if there are weight issues or any other indicators that they are not getting enough breastmilk, please see an IBCLC. If your hypothyroid stops you from producing all of the breastmilk your baby needs, there’s still every chance you can keep breastfeeding with some supplementation. Seeing an IBCLC can help you find the right balance between offering supplementation (including how much, when and how) while working towards preserving your breastfeeding relationship.
This information is my opinion, and should not replace the qualified support of a medical professional, like your GP, endocrinologist and/or IBCLC. You can also get some support from the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 MUM 2 MUM