Let’s talk about postpartum thyroid disorders. The thyroid is an unassuming butterfly-shaped gland, tucked away in the neck and it might seem small, but its role in our well-being is monumental.
There are some serious and alarming rates of postpartum thyroid disorders and dysfunction.
Up to 23% of new mothers will experience thyroid dysfunction in postpartum, compared to a minimal 3-4% of the rest of the general population!
In this episode we’re:
- Pushing back against the conventional medicine belief that thyroid disorders aren’t preventable or curable. Further, we’ll dive into the physiological origins of thyroid dysfunction as they relate to the hormonal shifts and changes of pregnancy and postpartum.
- Connecting cortisol (the stress hormone) to thyroid disorders and examining the role the lack of cultural support plays in the epidemic of thyroid disorders in the US.
- Diving into how women and providers can support the postpartum body nutritionally to facilitate the production of hormones that allow the thyroid to function properly.This conversation offers yet another example of the ways in which we are experiencing a maternal health crisis.It will encourage you to consider things that need to happen here and how we can look at what’s really going on within the body and provide postpartum women with the support and care they deserve.
Read the transcript of this episode:
Depression, anxiety and autoimmune symptoms after birth is not how it’s supposed to be. There is a much better way, and I’m here to show you how to do just that. Hey, my friend, I’m Maranda Bower, a mother to four kids and a biology student turned scientist obsessed with changing the world through postpartum care. Join us as we talk to mothers and the providers who serve them and getting evidence-based information that actually supports the mind, body and soul in the years after birth.
Hello everyone, welcome. It’s Maranda Bower, your host of the Postpartum University podcast, and today I am going to be talking with you all about the thyroid. Now hear me out on this. This is such an important topic and recently it came to light. I was actually doing a podcast recording on somebody else’s podcast and the conversation led into the postpartum thyroid and it was actually a really challenging conversation and the person who was doing the interview had a lot of challenges for me and it went well. But I will tell you, it was a really difficult conversation and it was difficult because of all of the misconceptions we have about the thyroid, especially how it functions in postpartum. It turns out that we were having this conversation, which worked out beautifully, and about two weeks later, I got to do a massive training for our professional membership on the postpartum thyroid. So this had been in the works and in the plans for the entire year and it just so happened that both of these events collided very closely together in time and we spent a good two hours doing an intensive training on the postpartum thyroid and I thought you know what. I need to share this with everyone here.
So I want to open up this conversation and have some big truth bombs being dropped your way in regard to the postpartum thyroid, which you know, the thyroid gland is one of the most important glands that we have within our entire body and it’s really just this unassuming butterfly-shaped gland that’s tucked away in the neck and it might seem small, but its role in our well being is monumental.
It really sets the tempo for our metabolism, energy levels, gut health, hormone health, and overall vitality, and the thyroid during pregnancy and postpartum is so exquisitely sensitive and it plays a role in both the health of mom and the baby. And again, one of the main reasons why I want to focus here is because not only are there so many misconceptions, but there are some serious, alarming rates of postpartum thyroid disorders and dysfunctions.
It’s estimated that one out of seven women will experience a thyroid problem. Up to 23% of all new mothers will experience thyroid dysfunction in postpartum, which is the prevalence in the general population is around three to 4%. So we know that there is a serious issue and actually, if we start looking at some of the stats, women are at five to eight times more likely to have a thyroid problem than males. One in eight women will have a thyroid problem in their life.
The Western Medical Complex says the causes of thyroid disorders are unknown and that you cannot heal or cure your thyroid. Treatment for thyroid disorders is a $4.3 billion industry and I really find this super important because we want to know where the money is, where’s the money going, because that takes so much of our overall healthcare system the care that we receive as people and also as women in particular, and it also tells us where science is going to be spending their time and energy. So it’s really interesting to look at this fact and I always say follow the money, and the more that we can follow the money, the more we’ll understand things a little bit better. For example, thyroidectomies, the removal of the thyroid or a portion of the thyroid is up 39% in the last two decades. So a couple of other interesting things to know is that the thyroid in pregnancy increases its overall production of thyroid hormones and its energy output by over 50%. And the reason being and I don’t feel like a lot of people understand this, and it was something that I didn’t know until doing some significant research when I first started working in this field that our thyroid as women is supporting the growth and the brain health of our baby in utero, which is absolutely phenomenal. So, of course, our thyroid is going extra, it’s working overtime, it’s working double time, putting in the effort to not only support our bodies, especially in pregnancy, but also growing our baby’s body at the same time, and this is one of the reasons why so many people believe that postpartum thyroiditis, which accounts for a good 17 to 23% of all postpartum experiences, is on the rise because we believe that, oh, it’s just so overworked and so therefore, of course, it’s going to crash and of course, we’re going to have issues. They don’t believe that is true in the least bit. So we look at these numbers and what we see is a health crisis. It angers me really. Postpartum mental health is a crisis, thyroid crisis. We’re in a postpartum crisis. It’s yet another example of how what we’re doing in the postpartum, how we are supporting moms, is not working. We are failing women, we are failing postpartum and women are struggling deeply. Living with thyroid issues means you’re struggling with mood, mental health, weight, sleep weakness, hormone imbalance, blood sugar issues, extreme exhaustion and even goiters and potentially cancer. So so many things need to happen here and we need to start looking at what is truly happening within our body.
Let’s chat about postpartum thyroiditis because, again, we have this belief that it is working so hard within the body. It is doing all of this work in the pregnancy period and then, all of a sudden, there’s this major shift in our hormones and the early postpartum weeks and our bodies are no longer having to support a baby and it’s just so overworked and then it crashes and that’s just the way it is. And, yes, that is true, our body has worked really, really hard in the postpartum period. But there’s so much more to that story. Our bodies are meant to create life. As a female, human body, we are meant to give birth, and our bodies work really hard during that period and that needs to be acknowledged. But the reason for the disbalance or the imbalance is because our bodies are not supported in the way that they need.
There’s so many components to this and I want to dive deeper into it. But let’s talk about postpartum thyroiditis for a second. Back up. We usually have two phases of postpartum thyroiditis. So thyroiditis is just the swelling. It is the inflammation period of the thyroid. So when there’s a lot of inflammation on the thyroid, then we call it thyroiditis, and so this is very particular. It’s thought to be temporary. In the postpartum period, we have a hyperthyroid phase for a lot of women. Women will experience this hyperthyroid phase in a few months after having baby, where it’s on overdrive. There’s lots of release of thyroid hormones likely that were stored away in the pregnancy, and then we have an increase in the immune system. So in pregnancy, our immune system lowers and reduces to support the growth of a baby, so our body doesn’t attack the baby. And then in postpartum, all of a sudden we get this huge immune boost rush that comes with having given birth and we often believe that that immune system is responsible for the effects of this hyperthyroid phase and this overworking, hyperactivity that comes with the thyroid. And then all of a sudden there’s a crash and then we enter into a hypothyroid phase where it’s a complete reduction of thyroid function and oftentimes we see this as the autoimmune response of being damaged, of being overworked, of so much inflammation that all of a sudden we just can’t function. Our thyroids cannot function at this level. It cannot keep up with that level of production, and I will say that 70% to 80% of women with postpartum thyroiditis will have a complete resolution of their thyroid dysfunction within the first year.
However, many women will go on to experience thyroid dysfunction. Up to 25% of women will develop a form of Hashimoto’s beyond the initial postpartum period. So I really want to get into why is this happening, because this is a huge component of our conversation and I had spent over two hours in this conversation, so obviously I’m not going to spend all of that time with you here talking about it, but I do want to summarize some really important facts about this. So obviously some of the causes might be a preexisting condition. So if you’ve got a thyroid condition already, a lot of people do. Over 60% of people who have a thyroid condition do not know that they have a thyroid condition, so oftentimes this preexisting condition can really exacerbate symptoms in the postpartum period. And then, of course, having an autoimmune disorder before pregnancy or during pregnancy impacts the likelihood of long-term thyroid issues following postpartum. So you have that going for you and let’s talk about hormones, because this is such a misunderstood component.
Yes, there is a biological, natural fluctuation that happens within our bodies in the postpartum period. We know estrogen and progesterone drop and then we have increases in oxytocin and all of these other hormones and there’s a big change that is taking place. This is a biologically normal change. It is not an imbalance. Okay, let me stress that again this change is a biologically normal. That is not an imbalance.
However, when that fluctuation is not supported, then there’s an imbalance.
So what creates hormones? Nutrients create hormones, right. It also supports the reduction of inflammation, and hormones play a role in the reduction of inflammation or the creation of inflammation as well, and we’re going to talk about that here in a second. Nutrient deficiencies or imbalances can easily disrupt this process or whatever is transpiring in the body. But there are a couple of components here that I really want to stress. One is cortisol. Cortisol is what is created when our body is undergoing significant stress or any sort of stress, acute stress as well, and when our body is in a state of chronic stress, where we’re always experiencing this stress and where our bodies are constantly producing cortisol over and, over and over again, then we’re going to end up with an imbalance in our hormones and we’re going to end up with thyroid issues. The connection between cortisol levels and thyroid dysfunction is significant. There’s actually several studies that link the two together, and some even have linked the entire issue of thyroid problems, especially thyroiditis, to cortisol, and we know that when the body is under significant stress, it’s going to impact the thyroid, among other things.
So, when there is the birth of a baby and when a mother is going through a major transition and maybe her body is not being supported in the way it needs which is often the case physically supported, emotionally supported, nutritionally supported, spiritually supported all of these components when we’re so busy thinking about okay, I got to get this laundry done. How am I going to get my kids to school? I got to go. You let the dogs out. Oh, this bill’s got to be paid. I got to go back to work. How am I going to pump my breast? What’s going on with this Baby? Is showing signs of this or has a rash Like what am I doing? And it’s all exhausting. Not only are you not getting sleep, but you’re going through all of these things and you have zero support or very little support. We’re in a period where we need extensive support and we don’t get it, so the stress levels are often excruciatingly high during this time, and that will always, always, always disrupt the HPA axis, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, and this axis is so closely related to the hypothalamic pituitary thyroid axis and they impact each other. So that’s just a little bit.
And then we have estrogen. Estrogen is also a significant part of this story and I don’t have a lot of time to go into it within this podcast episode, but we know over and over and over again that estrogen is immensely connected to the thyroid, and there’s a couple of points that I want to share with you. Here. We have the effects of contraceptives, which a lot of women are put on at the six-week mark to prevent another pregnancy, and that might be really effective and necessary for some, but it comes with a lot of issues. Contraceptives are known for their difficulties within the female body. It causes a lot of symptoms, many of which we don’t realize right away. It has a long-term impact on our health and it’s something to investigate further and I actually just did a podcast episode on this.
So if you want to investigate this a little bit further, I highly recommend listening to that episode. We’ll drop that in the show notes, but there is so much in terms of estrogen levels in the postpartum period at dropping when in pregnancy they were sky high. They help produce thyroid-binding globulin, which is the TBG, the protein that transports thyroid hormones in the blood. It helps with energy and baby. It’s again the estrogen levels that are increasing and dropping in the pregnancy and postpartum are a biological normal. But what happens in the postpartum period is that our immune system kicks in and our body does this significant detox as well. So a lot of that sweating and a lot of that need to pee is not only the release of all of these hormones that are happening, especially estrogen, within your body. It’s a toxin release and oftentimes estrogen falls under that category because there’s too much within our body. We also are exposed to xenoestrogens, which are environmental toxins within our bodies. They’re compounds that mimic estrogen. We have PFAS, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids. We are getting those through seed oils and things like that. Those mimic estrogens are very bad for your body, so to speak. We have soy products that mimic that. We also have just general toxins that mimic estrogens as well. If we look at a lot of the consumption of our foods in terms of meat product and dairy product, we have animals that are pumped with tons of estrogens and chemicals and antibiotics, but also hormones. We’re also ingesting those, which is why it’s so important not necessarily to stay away from meat, but to eat good quality, organic meat. That is the key factor.
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We have all of these situations that create an impact on estrogen, which directly affects how many hormones and compounds are produced for the thyroid and the thyroid hormones that lead to overall health and well-being throughout our whole body. Then we have toxins. I really want to talk about toxins for a second. I just brought it up for estrogen. But we have to look at so many other substances that are found in our environment. Look at the thyroid gland. It’s right in your neck. There is little to no protection. There are no bones that protect your thyroid. There’s nothing that covers your thyroid. There’s no big muscle that covers your thyroid. It’s just right there. We put face creams on, make-up, sunscreen, lotions, the potions, high exposure to pollutants and toxins. It’s right there. There’s no boundary. Our thyroid feels it all. It picks up a lot of what’s going on in our environment. We have chemicals, heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, and industrial pollutants the things that we’re putting on our face. Fluoride that is found in drinking water and our toothpaste is highly linked to thyroid dysfunction. We have to look at all of these components and say, okay, what is really going on here? Obviously, yes, pre-existing conditions. We have hormones, particularly cortisol and estrogen. In my training, we go through several others. We have toxins. Then let’s talk about nutrition, because this is one of the most fundamental pieces to the entire conversation of thyroid function. It’s interwoven throughout the entire training that I talk about. But we have iodine deficiency. That is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism, but increasing iodine often increases the negative symptoms because it increases the immune system. I’m going to talk about this here in a second, because this is such a component to autoimmune issues and it’s such a component to thyroid health. Most thyroid conditions are autoimmune conditions, almost all of them. I’ll talk about that here in a second. But in terms of nutrition, we have selenium, we have iron, we have amino acids, B vitamins, magnesium, and vitamin D all of these components that are so interconnected to the support systems and the production of T3 and T4, which is what the hormones that are produced by the thyroid and how they’re carried out throughout the entire body. They all play a role in this. Of course, we know in postpartum our needs for our body increase significantly when it comes to nutrition. So many women are entering postpartum depleted already. Then the process of nourishing our baby after body, the process of healing, only depletes us that much more. There is a stat out there that shows that almost 80 percent of women in the US are completely depleted of key nutrients. Obviously, this plays a massive role here as well. Here’s another component that we don’t talk about very often and that is gluten. This is such a fascinating conversation I won’t have time to go into all of the details. Maybe you don’t know, but there is such thing as the gut-brain axis, which I’ve done lots of trainings on, but there’s also such thing as the gut thyroid axis. Super interesting, super fun to look at the interconnectedness between the two systems. But let’s talk about gluten really quickly. Gluten is something that is known to cause issues with the thyroid. When we look at gluten, we know that the protein of gluten looks almost identical to the protein of the thyroid gland. When the body receives gluten or gets gluten within the body, oftentimes what happens is it mistakes it for the thyroid gland and then it attacks it. This is a type of mimicry that happens within the body. It’s very well known the fact that gluten intolerance has been directly related to thyroid dysfunction over and over and over again. It’s amazing to me that we do not help women in the postpartum period by removing gluten from their diets, which we know is highly inflammatory for many people. Even if you don’t necessarily believe that it is within your body, if you think that you can tolerate it, oftentimes what we see is that actually we don’t tolerate it. We’re not tolerating it very well and it impacts so many other areas of our body. The problem with this is that it’s not something that you can just do. There’s something that you can just test right, I’m getting ahead of myself here. There is a test that exists, a blood test specifically but it has a really high false negative rate, and so I don’t recommend doing that. The only surefire way to know whether or not this is applicable to you is by completely eliminating gluten from your diet for at least six weeks, and you can’t just eliminate it 80% or 90% from your diet. It has to be 100%, so it’s not an easy thing. This is one of the reasons why I have the postpartum nutrition plan and one of the reasons why it is 100% gluten-free as well as dairy-free because most people who have a gluten intolerance also have a dairy intolerance. It’s up to 80% of people. It’s a great statistic, and it’s shocking to me that we don’t use this more frequently because we have so many studies that support both of these things. So I want to go back really quickly and talk about thyroid issues and autoimmune issues.
We know statistically from science that 90% of all thyroid issues are autoimmune issues. We know without a shadow of a doubt that this is interrelated and autoimmune issues. There’s so many components of this that we won’t be able to kind of go in here in this conversation because they’re so complex, they’re deeply complex and there’s just so many factors within the human body that create this. But what we do know is that the root and you all know how much I am all about the root cause of all issues stems from chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is always the first go-to, especially when autoimmune issues are involved. And we already know that postpartum thyroiditis is labeled as a temporary autoimmune issue. And we already know that the thyroiditis that word itself, is specific to the inflammation of the thyroid. That’s exactly what it means. And so we have to get to the cause of that inflammation. So how do we get to that? How do we support the thyroid and get rid of this inflammation? Well, first, reduce stress, and get trauma care, because we know 30% of women in pregnancy and postpartum and labor and birth experience trauma, and that number is probably even higher, especially post COVID. Get the nervous system support that we need, get practical support, get good sleep, reduce stress as much as humanly possible. And then there’s nutrient repletion gluten and dairy-free, toxin-free. So I always put toxins in the nutrition component, because so much of the toxins that come into our body is what we eat and the foods that we’re exposed to. And nourishment is not just about food too. Right, nourishment is what we do in our daily lives. We can nourish our soul, we can nourish our emotions, we can nourish our heart. There are so many parts of nourishing. Food works in all of those components, and toxins do as well. So make sure that you are living a toxin-free life as much as possible and that you’re getting all the support of nourishment that you need. High fats and proteins that are safe, getting lots of essential fatty acids, maybe even a vitamin D and vitamin C supplements, some minerals, all of those things and, of course, removing toxins that support natural liver detoxification pathway. The liver plays a significant role in thyroid health. It actually creates the binding hormone that transports T3 and T4, which is the hormones that are produced in the thyroid, throughout the entire body. So every cell in your body has a receptor site for the thyroid hormones that are being released, but the liver produces those binding hormones that transport them throughout the entire body. So make sure you are detoxing and you are taking care of your liver and then constantly reassess and make adjustments. It’s a lifestyle. Healthy lifestyles with children sometimes are some of the hardest things to do, and it’s the hardest things to do when we don’t have examples for this. I never had an example of what a healthy lifestyle was. It was something that I had to create, and it’s really hard to do. We want people to model after, we want to be able to see that these things are not only in existence, but that we can do them too, and somebody to lead the way, and oftentimes that’s not the case. It’s not what we have available, and it’s very frustrating and it’s very hard, and so just acknowledge that it’s something that we do in baby steps, and if you fall back, that’s okay, but as long as we keep trying and pushing through, that is success. That is success. And, of course, looking at the potential need for medication and making sure that you talk with a provider who is well versed in the thyroid and they are up to speed on all the latest research. You might have to find a specialty provider. You might have to find someone outside of your area. Do whatever it is that you can to find that provider who can give you exactly what you need. A lot of people always ask me well, does that mean that I might have to go on a thyroid medication? I want to avoid it as much as possible, and the answer is always it depends. Of course, you want to avoid it as much as possible, but there are times when it’s absolutely necessary to get the right testing, one which you can find on our Instagram as well as our website. If you want to know all of the tests, which there are nine of them. You want to make sure that you’re getting all of them in order to find out whether or not you have a thyroid disorder. And two, you want to consistently reassess and make adjustments to these lifestyle changes. And then, if that’s still necessary, or if there was maybe some long-term damage maybe you didn’t realize that you had a thyroid issue, or maybe you need some support in the interim as you figure out your lifestyle medication may be necessary, and I know a lot of people are like what, Maranda, you just said necessary. Yeah, there are times when, particularly in the thyroid, where this is necessary, because when you’re dealing with an autoimmune condition, when your body is literally attacking one of the most important parts of your entire body, which, in all parts of our body are important and have a good role, but this thyroid impacts so many different other areas of our lives, and if it’s being attacked by our own body and it has been being attacked for a period of time, there’s some long-term damage that happens, and sometimes that damage can be very irreversible, and so medications may be necessary in those situations, and sometimes even in the short term, while we try to navigate these lifestyle changes that support a better thyroid health. So go check out our Instagram or our website for more information on this and, of course, if you’re a professional in the field and you’re wondering, ok, how do I support my clients through these challenges, because likely, like me, you’re seeing this, you’re seeing thyroid issues grow significantly and we’re wondering what do we do about it? What’s the function here? How are we supporting? Definitely, go take a look at our professional membership for this training, where I talk extensively about this and give you a workbook, and all of the details are listed there. If you have any questions, of course, don’t hesitate to reach out. This is such an in-depth conversation and I wish I could go into so many more components, but again, we’re in a podcast and I know your time is precious and short and you’re probably listening in between taking care of all the kids or taking care of all your clients we’re probably doing both and so we want to touch base later on all of those. So hope you enjoy and we’ll connect soon.
I am so grateful you tuned into the Postpartum University podcast. We hope you enjoyed this episode enough to leave us a quick review and, more importantly, I hope more than ever that you take what you’ve learned here, applied it to your own life and consider joining us in the Postpartum University membership. It’s a private space where mothers and providers learn the real truth and the real tools needed to heal in the years Postpartum. You can learn more at wwwpostpartumu. That’s the letter U.com. We’ll see you next week.
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