I may have hypothyroidism; can I still breastfeed my baby?
Hypothyroidism is the name given to the condition of having an underactive thyroid. Because the thyroid controls the body's metabolic process, it is a serious condition. Any mother with thyroid disease should be under the care of a doctor who is supportive of her desire to breastfeed.
Thyroid supplements - used to treat this condition - are not contraindicated while breastfeeding. They simply bring the mother’s thyroid up to normal levels, making the mother feel better and increasing her milk supply.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include fatigue, poor appetite, depression, intolerance to cold, thinning hair and dry skin. These symptoms, which are similar to those of anemia, may be wrongly attributed to normal postpartum fatigue, postpartum depression or even breastfeeding.
Diagnosis of an underactive thyroid can usually be based on the mother's symptoms as well as a simple blood test. On occasion, radioactive testing is used to diagnose thyroid problems. If radioactive testing is recommended, the mother can ask her physician if the test could be postponed or another, non-radioactive test, be substituted.
If the radioactive test is used, temporary weaning is recommended. "The length of time the mother needs to suspend breastfeeding will depend on the type and dosage of radioactive materials used for the test" (BAB). Radioactivity of breastmilk declines over time, and frequent milk expression will help the mother eliminate the radioactivity from her body more quickly. This milk must be discarded and not fed to the baby. (Frequent milk expression will not hasten the elimination of other drugs from breastmilk.) For pumping information see LLLI's FAQs about pumping.
Contact a La Leche League Leader for the most up-do-date information about the time period needed to sufficiently clear radioactivity from breastmilk.
Resources for Additional Information
LLLI's FAQ on breastfeeding while taking medications
These items plus many others are all available from LLLI's Online Store or through your local Leader.
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