When you have a baby, you're tired. Your hormones are out of whack, your periods are wonky, you might feel like crap and your hair falls out. Is it from "just being a tired mom" (said by your OB rather condescendingly) or is it because of something else?
When I was three or four months postpartum, I noticed weird stuff going on in my neck. As a side sleeper, I could no longer sleep that way without discomfort and even some pain. It was mildly uncomfortable to swallow, even though it wasn't the same as a typical sore throat pain. My neck swelled up and I thought I had some kind of virus, so I went to the doctor.
The physician's assistant thought maybe I had mono, so she ordered a blood test. It came back negative, but in the meantime she put me on antibiotics. After I took one pill, I thought, Wait a minute, mono is a virus, not bacterial. What the heck am I taking these for? I threw them out.
Another thing she told me: Stop breastfeeding for a while in case your baby gets what you have.
No way was I doing that. I knew my baby would be protected because I was nursing exclusively, and who's to say he wouldn't get it anyway?
I went at least another year before finding out why I felt half-dead most of the time, and probably another year on top of that before starting medication. I couldn't help but wonder, how many other "tired moms" go that long and then some with doctors throwing antidepressants at them, and everyone else patronizingly telling them, "Oh, you're just tired! Get more rest!"
In retrospect, I know now that I had postpartum thyroiditis, where the thyroid gland is affected by a surge of hormones and gets inflamed. In some cases it can last weeks or even months, and then go back to normal. In others, it makes you hypothyroid, and is under the umbrella of autoimmune thyroid disorders, or Hashimoto's disease.
Thyroid disorders can also make you feel depressed, on top of what you might already be feeling as a new mom who is struggling to adjust to changes or new additions in the family. In addition, another possibly huge impact on the new mother is how it can interfere with the breastfeeding relationship. I am bolding this simply because I feel that perhaps this is one component to lower breastfeeding rates, and perhaps the root of some women's difficulties with breastfeeding, that has perhaps been overlooked.
One of the signs is decreased milk volume in breastfeeding women. Considering how prevalent thyroid disorders are, it almost makes you wonder if this is one of the causes behind why some women are unsuccessful at breastfeeding and never really know why. And, according to the La Leche League, little if any research has been done on it - not only do many doctors not have a sound understanding of the mechanics of breast milk production, supply and demand, but seemingly few of those doctors truly understand thyroid disorders, either, sadly. This unknown factor in a mom's health could mean the difference between treating her condition properly or going years without knowing the true underlying cause of why she "couldn't nurse" her babies.
I posed this question of many thyroid patients recently and came up with interesting responses: I asked them if they ever had trouble breastfeeding, and if so, did they find out why? Some never had problems, others were, at one time, able to nurse very well and then suddenly production declined as they had more children. I noticed this myself: with my first, I could pump like crazy, but almost nothing with my second or third children. One said she was successfully able to nurse twins and then, in a later child, had supply issues. And some women said they tried everything - and nothing worked.
Breastmilk production is stimulated by prolactin, which is produced in the pituitary gland. Not coincidentally, the pituitary gland is also responsible for producing TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone.
In reality, "any woman who has been pregnant can have postpartum thyroiditis," according to thyroid advocate Mary Shomon's website. There is the chance that the thyroid will return to normal in some women, but in others it can lead to a more persistent form of thyroid disorder, whether Hashimoto's or eventually full-blown hypothyroidism.