Can a thyroid condition during pregnancy affect my baby?

The thyroid is a tiny, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck. The thyroid makes hormones that help your body work. If it makes too little or too much of these hormones, you may have problems during pregnancy. With treatment, a thyroid condition may not cause any problems during pregnancy. But untreated thyroid conditions during pregnancy are linked to serious problems, including premature birth, miscarriage and stillbirth.

What are the main kinds of thyroid conditions?

  • Hyperthyroidism (“hyper” means too much). This is when the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. Hyperthyroidism during pregnancy is usually caused by an autoimmune disorder called Graves’ disease.
  • Hypothyroidism (“hypo” means too little or not enough). This is when the thyroid doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism during pregnancy usually is caused by an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease.

If you have a thyroid condition during pregnancy, treatment can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

How do you know if you have a thyroid condition?

Health care providers don’t usually test your thyroid before or during pregnancy unless you’re at high risk of having a thyroid condition or you have signs or symptoms of one. If you have signs or symptoms of a thyroid condition, especially during pregnancy, tell your provider. Signs of a condition are things someone else can see or know about you, like that you have a rash or you’re coughing. Symptoms are things you feel yourself that others can’t see, like having a sore throat or feeling dizzy. Signs and symptoms of thyroid conditions may appear slowly over time. Many are signs and symptoms of other health conditions, so having one doesn’t always mean you have a thyroid problem.

Your provider gives you a physical exam and a blood test to check for thyroid conditions. The blood test measures the levels of thyroid hormones and thyroid stimulating hormone (also called TSH) in your body. TSH is a hormone that tells your thyroid gland to make thyroid hormones. If you think you may have a thyroid condition, ask your provider about testing.

What are the signs and symptoms of thyroid conditions during pregnancy?

Thyroid conditions during pregnancy may be difficult to identify because some of the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are often confused with those that normally occur during pregnancy. Also, many women with hypothyroidism have mild or no symptoms of this condition.

Signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism during pregnancy can include:

  • rapid heartbeat
  • feeling too warm
  • tiredness
  • anxiety
  • sweating too much
  • unexplained weight loss

Signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism during pregnancy can include:

  • tiredness
  • feeling too cold
  • muscle cramps
  • constipation
  • trouble concentrating

What can you do?

Some women are at a higher risk of having a thyroid condition during pregnancy. For example, women who have type 1 diabetes or have a family history of autoimmune thyroid disease, among others have a higher risk of having a thyroid condition during pregnancy. Ask your health care provider if you are at a higher risk of having a thyroid condition during pregnancy. Get a preconception checkup to make sure health conditions, like thyroid conditions are diagnosed and treated before getting pregnant.  

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