As if motherhood wasn’t complicated enough, many moms—whether new or older—find themselves dealing with thyroid issues of one kind or another.
Medical experts say that over 20 million Americans have thyroid issues ranging from temporary thyroid dysfunction to permanent autoimmune disease. More than 10 percent of the population will experience a thyroid problem at one time or another in their life.
With odds like that, moms need to be aware of the symptoms so that they can offset serious, long-term problems. Sadly, it’s hard to get an accurate thyroid diagnosis in many cases, even today with significantly more awareness.
Here’s what you need to know about thyroid wellness and, if you end up being diagnosed with a condition, everything you need to thrive with thyroid issues as a mom.
Thyroid Basics: What It Does
The thyroid is a small hormone-producing gland that sits at the base of the neck. It regulates metabolism, which is a lot more than just how much you weigh. It controls energy levels, helps regulate other hormones throughout the body, and can even influence how heavy or regular a menstrual cycle is.
The thyroid makes two hormones: T4 and T3. T4 is the inactive form, but the one that is produced in the highest amount. The body then converts it into T3, the active form, as it is needed.
You can have thyroid problems because the body doesn’t make enough T4 or because it is not able to efficiently convert T4 into T3.
When your thyroid hormones are out of whack, you can suffer from a lot of physical, mental, and even emotional problems. This is because the thyroid is responsible for many things, like:
- Giving the cells energy
- Regulating appetite
- Promoting normal digestion
- Keeping a steady heart rate
- Having a normal mood
- Having a normal body temperature, not too hot or too cold
- Keeping a normal blood pressure
And so much more! When the thyroid is off-balanced, there will always be symptoms, but it can take a long time for them to appear.
This is what can make it hard to get a proper and fast diagnosis.
Why Women Have Way More Thyroid Problems
Women have thyroid problems way more often than men—seven out of eight times more often, in fact. This is probably due to women having more hormones that exist in a delicate balance.
When any hormone imbalance arises, thyroid problems can commonly ensue.
Pregnancy and postpartum are significant triggers for thyroid issues. So are autoimmune conditions, inflammation, and family history.
Having a baby is a huge trigger for thyroid disease, but it’s not routinely tested for. If you have a baby and seem to be taking a long time to return to normal, have trouble losing even a little weight, or rapidly pack on pounds, ask your doctor to test your thyroid.
But make sure to ask for all of the following tests:
- Free T3
- Free T4
- Thyroid antibodies
There are other reasons why you’d want your doctor to run those tests, too. If you’re dealing with postpartum depression or any type of mood disorder, cannot sleep, have no energy, or generally do not feel like yourself, all of these could be tied in to thyroid problems.
Even if you’re not having any of those specific problems, it’s not a bad idea to get your thyroid checked every few years especially as you are in your 30s and 40s and beyond.
Catching thyroid problems early, before they’ve turned into full-blown disease, is the best way to protect your quality of life and save yourself a lot of headaches.
The Most Common Signs of Thyroid Problems You Need to Be Aware Of
Thyroid problems can come on suddenly or build slowly over months or even years. It can be complicated to identify them on symptoms alone until several signs show up. Knowing what you’re looking for can lead to a faster diagnosis.
Some people will get a lot of symptoms, and others will only have one or two primary ones.
Commonly seen symptoms with hypothyroid disorders include:
- Fatigue or constant tiredness
- Overexertion from common activities like walking or household chores
- Insomnia or unrestful sleep
- Intolerance to cold
- Poor circulation
- Depression and other mood disorders
- Low pulse
- Low basal body temperature
- Weight gain with the inability to lose weight
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Eyebrows that thin
- Poor concentration and mental focus
- Low sex drive
- Excessively heavy periods
Thyroid problems don’t always result in an under-functioning gland. Sometimes it can go into overdrive and demonstrate other symptoms, like:
- Irritability and mood changes
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Feeling constantly nervous or on edge
- Having a hotter than normal body temperature
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Bulging eyes
- Thinning hair
- Losing weight without trying
- Having irregular periods
It’s not always easy to identify thyroid issues by symptoms alone, so if you simply feel “off” or want to be proactive, asking for your thyroid to be tested can be a good way to gauge where things are before they get really bad.
The Moms Guide to Thriving with Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease is frustrating for anyone, but when you’re a mom and little people are depending on you, it can feel impossible to function. But thyroid disease or problems don’t have to derail your life.
You won’t, however, be able to go on along as if nothing has happened.
The best way to thrive when you have thyroid problems—whether temporary or permanent—is to understand that you can’t just keep doing the same old, same old. You need a wellness plan for your sanity and your health that won’t tax your thyroid.
You also need to learn to give yourself grace, and lots of it. This is no easy task for most mothers, but it’s the number one place to start. If your thyroid has started to act up, forcing yourself to push through it or ignore it will make it worse. Trying to be super mom or the perfect person will make it worse.
Things will get better, but when you’re in the throes of symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, you need an action plan and the first step is to slow down.
You cannot do it all. Even moms without thyroid problems struggle with this reality. No one is perfect and no one can do everything.
Stress and chaos are common parts of modern living, but these are also the enemies of a healthy thyroid and oh yes, your overall mental health, too. When you’re dealing with thyroid disease, you need to keep the following in mind.
1. Sleep Is Important
As a mom, whether you’ve just given birth or have older kids, getting a good night of sleep consistently is hard. When the baby is waking you up, it’s impossible. But even beyond that, it’s hard to prioritize sleep as an essential part of self-care, but it truly is.
If thyroid problems have started, your number one priority is to get the best sleep that you can. That starts by at least having a bedtime and making yourself stick to it.
2. Keep Up With Your Doctor Appointments
After you get diagnosed with thyroid issues, you’re far from done with doctor appointments. If you go on thyroid medication, you’ll need regular lab work to monitor how your body is handling the dose and the specific medication.
There are many varieties of thyroid hormone replacement and what works for one person might do nothing for the next. It’s important to keep regular doctor appointments and keep them informed about how you’re feeling.
Even if your labs start to improve but you don’t feel a lot better, you might need a different med combination or a higher dose. Remember that a great doctor is a powerful healing aid, but no one knows your body better than you do.
3. Self-Care Is Critical
While you need to get good sleep, you also need to take care of yourself in many other ways. This is hard for moms without thyroid disease, so no, it isn’t going to be easy.
But focusing on self-care allows you to support your health on many levels. Being a mom is overwhelming enough. Having thyroid disease alone is a lot to handle. When they both land at the same time, it can feel impossible.
It can take a toll on your mental health. Having a self-care plan in place is vital. What it looks like for you might be different from someone else, but you must have and do something.
For me, I focused on getting acupuncture once a week, which dramatically lowered my stress levels and anxiety. I also forced myself to read novels, even if it was just a few pages a day.
I love reading, but once I started having kids, reading fiction felt like a luxury I wasn’t allowed. So I gave it back to myself. It was a wonderful way to have a brain escape.
It could be anything really, but it has to be something that you can stick with and that energizes you. It’s also smart if it doesn’t require a lot of actual energy from you since thyroid problems have a way of stealing motivation.
4. Keep a Balanced Perspective
You are not defined by your thyroid disorder. It can feel like it at times, though, so it’s important to remember that a health issue does not replace your identity. It can be a time of testing though.
When you feel unwell and don’t have energy, your family and friends might not always be understanding. You may feel alone. But this season will not last forever, and you will feel better.
5. Don’t Try to Mask Low Energy With Caffeine
I’m not saying quit all caffeine, although for some this works.
But the biggest mistake I made when I was battling low thyroid while having young kids was increasing my caffeine to the point that it gave me anxiety and made my sleep problems significantly worse.
It’s okay to have some coffee or caffeine, but don’t use it as the only thing getting you through life.
6. Focus on Gentle Exercise
When you have thyroid issues, the motivation to exercise may not be there at all. Or you may be tempted to overdo it to overcompensate for weight that won’t come off or for not feeling like yourself.
Gentle exercise is key here, something like yoga, tai chi, or even just a workout program that focuses on healing diastasis recti and the pelvic floor.
If you’re a mom, regardless of how many years it has been since you had your babies, chances are you could benefit from these stabilizing and gentle routines.
7. Understand the Connection with Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression, or PPD, affects as many as 20 percent of moms after giving birth. However, it doesn’t always kick in within weeks of having a baby. Sometimes it can kick in after months, or even after an entire year.
Sometimes, however, postpartum depression is diagnosed when a thyroid disorder is actually what’s going on—and vice versa. It’s important to understand that both thyroid disorders and PPD can occur soon after or months later after having a baby.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder but don’t seem to be getting better and you’ve had a baby in the last two years, get evaluated for PPD or depression.
If you’ve been diagnosed with postpartum depression or another mood disorder but that doesn’t seem to be getting better, get your thyroid checked out. The two can be very closely related and it’s common to have issues with both to at least some degree, even if only temporarily.
8. Ignore Cliche Advice
New moms, veteran moms, and moms of any kind are bombarded with advice on a constant basis. If you have trouble losing postpartum weight, you’re told to eat fewer carbs or exercise more.
If you gain weight after having a baby, you’re told to count calories or stop stressing so much.
Rarely is there an understanding that first, having a baby and being a mother is not something you “recover” from—overnight or at all. It’s not a negative thing or a disease that needs a cure.
It’s a major lifestyle change and there are bound to be some things that take time to adjust. This is okay and normal. Our impatient modern society has lost sight of that.
If you don’t lose your postpartum weight fast enough, it doesn’t mean you’re lazy or that there’s something wrong with you. Or it could mean that your thyroid is having a hard time.
But it certainly reflects nothing on your skills as a mother. Whether you’re recovering from birth or addressing a thyroid disease or disorder, the answer is never to extremely restrict calories or to punish yourself by excessive food restriction and tons of exercise.
Both being a mom and having a thyroid condition means you need lots of care, grace, and love—and you need nutrients, too. So cutting out healthy food or calories, in general, will not fix the problem at all.