The Lowest Lowdown on Hypothyroidism

What it is, how it works and what happens if it doesn't.


I got another sad email this week from a grandmother. Kristen's daughter is pregnant with her second baby. The first, I'm very sad to report, died at birth. Kristen says the baby was born very underweight (only 4 pounds) but not premature. There was a lot of meconium and the placenta was very small. Kristen's daughter has hypothyroidism but took excellent care of her health throughout her pregnancy. Still, tragedy hit hard. Now that she's expecting her second baby, it's impossible not to feel anxious about losing another baby. Though she's seeing specialists, has a normal thyroid level now and is, once again, doing everything right, Kristen's worried about her daughter's (and grandbaby's) well being. Wow, I'll bet you're worried. I'd be out of my mind if this terrible thing happened to my daughter. I'll bet you feel frightened and helpless too.

Let's talk about that hypothyroidism. The thyroid gland is a tiny little thing in our neck. It's shaped like a butterfly and doctor's like to say, it's in the same location as where you'd put a bow tie. For such a dinky gland, it sure has a big job. It produces two major hormones that help the body make energy, keep body temperature regulated and help other organs function. If we don't have enough thyroid our ability to metabolize food into usable energy is all messed up. Thyroid is essential for normal physical and mental development. That's especially important during pregnancy because not only do we need that energy; so does our developing baby. The National Institute of Health reported almost 10 years ago that children born to mothers with untreated hypothyroidism during pregnancy score lower on IQ tests than children of healthy mothers; have more miscarriages and stillbirths. That's the bad news.

The good news is mothers whose thyroid disorder is treated and well-managed during pregnancy have kids that are just as bright as every other kid (they have normal IQ scores). Fortunately, hypothyroidism is easily diagnosed (with a blood test) and treated (with medication) during pregnancy. Women who have any history, concerns or symptoms of thyroid disease should talk to their midwife or doctor about it. Symptoms? Many are confusingly similar to pregnancy: Fatigue, weakness, weight gain, muscle cramps or aches, constipation, depression, irritability, memory loss, abnormal menstrual cycles and decreased libido. A few symptoms stand out when diagnosing hypothyroid disorder and don't usually happen with pregnancy: coarse, dry hair; dry, rough, pale skin; hair loss. Most pregnant women have great hair. Consider it a bonus.

I think the hardest part about parenting is realizing that even when you do your best to protect your children, life happens. I'm substituting the word "life" for an impolite one that describes excrement. Feel free to replace the bad word if you want. I think in Kristen's case, the bad word is way more appropriate in describing my sentiment. The point is, unpredictable, frightening, tragic and dangerous things happen in life and though we do everything in our power to prevent them; not everything is in our power. There are very few parents out there who haven't found themselves in the emergency room in the middle of the night saying, "what the heck (replace word if necessary)? Why did this happen?"

I spent this morning in the urgent care clinic with my 13-year-old son. All he was doing was cutting pears and made one false move. Three steri-strips and one TB vaccination later, he's fine. The other morning, he picked up a can of spray-foam glue adhesive (think—Krazy-glue mixed with styling mousse), set it down on the counter and stepped away. A moment later, it fell off the counter, exploded and covered my son, the kitchen and a bowl of bread dough in ever-expanding foaming glue. Three hours, a bottle of finger nail polish remover and a few bad words later, everything was fine. Well, the bread was a total loss and there's a whole lot of glue-gunk hardened on my cabinets but in the grand scheme of things, we'll just chock it up to "life" happens. Believe me Kristen, I'm not comparing our "pear and glue incidents" with the gravity of losing your grandbaby. I'm just marveling at how unpredictable life is. My heart goes out to you. I can't imagine how great your grief is. I count my blessings every day that nothing that tragic has ever happened to one of my babies.

So, what the heck happened to Kristen's daughter and grandbaby? I don't know. Maybe her thyroid wasn't as stable as it needed to be. Maybe some other factor was at play here. Most of the time, when we lose a baby, we don't know why. Life happens. Fortunately, here in America, we don't lose many babies. That's not the case in other countries.

Now that she's expecting number two, Kristen and her daughter have reason to feel both more worried and less worried. More worried, obviously, because they know the worst can and has happened. Less worried because Kristen's daughter and grandbaby are going to be watched like a hawk. She'll be seeing endocrinologists for her thyroid disorder, obstetricians for her pregnancy, possibly a perinatologist for her developing baby and will no doubt have more medical appointments, blood tests and ultrasounds than most women. She'll be impeccable about her diet and exercise. She won't come anywhere near a toxic chemical. And then? She'll hope for the best. This is the hard part; when you've done all you can and you just have to hope it's all going to be fine. Chances are, it will be. Chances are, Kristen, you'll be holding your grandbaby in your arms a few months down the line and he/she'll be healthy, bright and beautiful. Fast forward a few years and you'll probably be lucky enough to find yourself in the urgent care center saying, "what the heck?" And in the grand scheme of things, it'll be fine.

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.