Pregnant woman against beige background wondering what thyroid postpartum is

What Is Thyroid Postpartum?

Medically reviewed on July 14, 2023 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Pregnancy impacts the body in more ways than one. During gestation, women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) can experience a number of discomforts, including body aches, constipation, dizziness, heartburn, and morning sickness, among others.

However, the effects of pregnancy don’t always end after birth. Postpartum body aches can continue, and new parents may also experience vaginal pain, night sweats, swollen breasts, hair loss, and depression. [1]

Some new parents are also at risk of a condition called ‘thyroid postpartum’ for up to a year after giving birth. Although often temporary, postpartum thyroiditis can cause either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, affecting individual’s weights, moods, and temperature regulation. [2]

Postpartum Thyroiditis 101

It’s estimated that 5% of women or people AFAB who give birth will experience some form of postpartum thyroiditis. [2] The condition directly affects the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped tissue located in the lower neck. Within its tissues are four hormones, which include [3]:

  • Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
  • Triiodothyronine (Free T3)
  • Thyroxine (Free T4)
  • Calcitonin

Proper thyroid function is essential for many reasons. When functioning normally, the thyroid gland releases these hormones into the bloodstream to regulate the metabolism and the amount of calcium in the blood. In effect, your thyroid influences many of the body’s processes, including [3]:

  • Heart rate
  • Breathing
  • Digestion
  • Body temperature
  • Brain development
  • Cognitive function
  • Skin and bone health
  • Fertility

As mentioned earlier, there's a link between thyroid and fertility. In the case of pregnancy, the body may need more energy to regulate body temperature and organ functions. As a result, the thyroid will typically produce more hormones during gestation. [4]

See related: Can a Woman With Thyroid Problems Get Pregnant??

Postpartum Thyroid Dysfunction

Postpartum thyroiditis is most often characterized by hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland, that produces an excess amount of thyroid hormones. However, hypothyroidism can also occur, in which the thyroid is underactive and not pumping enough hormones into the bloodstream. [2]

Depending on the condition, symptoms will vary and may result in [5]:

  • Hyperthyroidism – Those with an [overactive thyroid gland]( typically experience muscle weakness, nervousness, anxiety, an accelerated heartbeat, loss of focus, and weight loss. Shakiness, heat intolerance, and frequent bowel movements may also manifest.[6]
  • Hypothyroidism – People with an underactive thyroid gland can experience fatigue, constipation, memory loss, cold intolerance, dry skin, muscle cramps or pain, depression, weakness, and weight gain. [5]

These symptoms will typically appear a few months after childbirth. Most often, there are two phases to thyroid postpartum. During the first one to six months following delivery, new parents with this condition may experience a form of hyperthyroidism. [2]

The condition can then progress into its second phase: hypothyroidism. At this time, symptoms are very prominent and can impact the person’s everyday life. This stage typically occurs four to eight months following delivery. In some cases, hypothyroidism may remain present for the rest of the mother’s life. In other cases, it may resolve itself within a year. [2]

Who Does Postpartum Thyroiditis Affect?

Typically, women or people AFAB with a history (or family history) of thyroid dysfunction or type 1 diabetes are most at risk of developing postpartum thyroiditis. [2]

In one study, researchers found that gestational diabetes—which occurs when the body can’t make enough insulin during pregnancy—led to the development of both type 1 diabetes and Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder characterized by hyperthyroidism. [7]

Of the 11% to 17% of women who develop a thyroid condition following delivery, 5% experience postpartum Graves’ disease. [7]

It’s believed that the chance of developing an autoimmune disorder like Graves’ disease or diabetes increases during the postpartum period, often due to the physiological changes that can occur during pregnancy, such as insulin resistance and immunosuppression. [7]

More specifically, because the fetus needs protection from its parent’s immune system during pregnancy, immune functions alter. Following delivery, the immune system rebounds and accelerates, which can cause thyroid issues. [7]

People with microsomal antibodies in the thyroid may also be at a higher risk of developing postpartum thyroiditis. [2]

See related: Thyroid and Period

What Causes Postpartum Thyroiditis?

Postpartum thyroiditis most often occurs due to antithyroid antibodies attacking the thyroid. [2]

Current studies cannot account for why this happens. However, many researchers hypothesize that this phenomenon occurs in people with an underlying and/or asymptomatic autoimmune thyroid condition. [2] Some cases of postpartum thyroiditis can also present similarly to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder that causes hypothyroidism.

How to Diagnose and Treat Postpartum Thyroiditis

If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis, it's best to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. They can:

  • Assess your symptoms
  • Examine your body
  • Order a blood test to identify whether a thyroid gland is overactive or underactive [2]

Once your condition is identified, your healthcare provider will administer a treatment plan depending on the severity of your condition, as well as your age and health status. Those with mild symptoms of a thyroid disorder typically won’t require the intervention of medications. Rather, their healthcare provider is more likely to monitor them to ensure their symptoms don’t worsen. [2]

On the other hand, individuals experiencing severe symptoms of hypothyroidism are often prescribed beta blockers or prednisone to slow the heart rate and reduce inflammation of the underactive thyroid gland. Similarly, patients with hyperthyroidism also require medication, such as some form of thyroid hormone replacement. [5]

Monitoring Your Thyroid Hormone Levels

Thyroid postpartum symptoms typically manifest in two stages: first hyperthyroidism, then hypothyroidism. These hormonal changes can significantly impact postpartum parents, affecting their moods, metabolic functions, and temperature tolerance.

If you believe you’re experiencing thyroid dysregulation after delivery, consider taking Everlywell’s at-home Thyroid Test. It measures your thyroid hormone and antibody levels from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Simply order your test, collect a blood sample, and ship your package to one of our certified labs. You’ll receive personalized healthcare provider-reviewed results and a digital consultation with a healthcare provider if needed.

Or, to learn more about your condition, connect with a licensed clinician through Everlywell. Using our online thyroid services, you can meet with a provider to discuss your concerns and receive recommendations for treatment.

At Everlywell, we understand the importance of identifying and addressing thyroid issues for postpartum parents. Take control of your health and get the answers you need today.

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  1. Body changes and discomforts | Published December 13, 2016. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  2. Postpartum Thyroiditis | Thyroid Symptoms & Treatments | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. Published 2016. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. Thyroid: What It Is, Function & Problems. Cleveland Clinic. Published June 7, 2022. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  4. NCBI. How Does the Thyroid Gland work? Published April 19, 2018. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  5. Postpartum Thyroiditis. Published August 8, 2021. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  6. Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid) | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
  7. Negishi M, Shimomura K, Proks P, et al. Development of postpartum Graves’ disease and type 1 diabetes after delivery in a patient with gestational diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Investigation. 2010;2(4):328-330. URL. Accessed June 12, 2023.
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