Will Thyroid Disease Affect My Baby?

Learn about the treatment options for thyroid disorders while pregnant, and whether the condition will affect your pregnancy or baby. 

Thyroid Test with Doctor and Pregnant Woman
Photo: NotarYES / Shutterstock

If you suffer from a persistent thyroid problem, you may be wondering if you can have a successful pregnancy – or if the medicine used to treat your condition will harm your unborn baby. Fortunately, most thyroid problems can treated safely, resulting in both a healthy mom and baby. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with thyroid disorders during pregnancy.

What are Thyroid Disorders?

The thyroid is a gland located in your neck that produces a hormone responsible for regulating your metabolism and controlling many of your body's organs. Thyroid disease happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys cells in the thyroid gland. This results in your thyroid producing either too many hormones (hyperthyroidism) or too few (hypothyroidism).

About 2 percent of pregnant women have a thyroid disorder. Some develop the condition before pregnancy, while others experience thyroid problems for the first time during pregnancy or soon after delivery.

Treating Thyroid Disorders in Pregnancy

Because untreated thyroid disorders can be harmful to both mother and baby, all conditions require prompt treatment in pregnancy.

Hypothyroidism: Babies of women with untreated hypothyroidism have a higher risk of neurological or developmental problems, including mental retardation. You'll be given hormone replacement pills to boost the level of thyroid hormone in your blood.

Hyperthyroidism: If you have hyperthyroidism, you're more likely to develop a type of pregnancy-related high blood pressure called preeclampsia, and you'll need medication to reduce the amount of thyroid hormone your body makes. However, you should not be given radioactive iodine (a common treatment) during pregnancy because it can damage your unborn baby's thyroid gland.

The good news is that most medications used to treat thyroid disorders are considered safe in pregnancy. If you take medication for your condition, your healthcare provider will regularly measure the amount of thyroid hormone in your blood and make adjustments as the pregnancy progresses.

Screening for Thyroid Problems While Pregnant

Though most healthcare providers don't routinely screen pregnant women for thyroid disorders, your doctor may recommend testing if you have a family history or another autoimmune disorder (such as diabetes), or if you experience any symptoms. Most conditions can be easily diagnosed with a simple blood test and can be treated safely, enabling you to have a healthy baby.

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