Thyroid + Hormone Health In Postpartum

You’re tired. Sluggish. Your weight doesn’t seem to respond to your lifestyle changes. You’re tired in the morning and wired at night. Is it your late night Netflix habit… or is there something else going on with your hormones to make you feel less than optimal?

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We talked to one of our favourite hormonal experts, Dr. Sarah Winward, ND, who is also a mama herself and a seasoned birth doula — a trifecta of experience when it comes to mama stress and hormones.

Here are her top recommendations for optimizing your hormonal health and thyroid function in postpartum. Whether your little one just came earth-side or you’re sending kiddos off to public school, this is info every mama should have about her hormones.

What does the thyroid do?

Dr. Winward: The thyroid gland is responsible for regulating the metabolism (body temperature, weight, energy, etc.) While it generally functions optimally, bodily changes in pregnancy can be stressful for the thyroid gland. 20% of pregnant people experience thyroid symptoms during or after pregnancy. Most often, a mama’s thyroid is deemed under-functioning and “hypo-thyroid.” Sometimes, the thyroid can over-function, called “hyperthyroidism.”

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what are the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction?

Dr. Winward: When the thyroid is under-functioning, or you have hypothyroid disorder, you might experience:

  • Fatigue

  • Sluggishness 

  • Cold intolerance (always feeling cold)

  • Difficulty losing weight or otherwise unexplained weight gain

  • Constipation

  • Dry skin

  • Joint pain

  • Difficulty with milk supply

When the thyroid is overactive, or you have hyperthyroid disorder, you might experience:

  • Anxiety 

  • Heart palpitations

  • Heat intolerance (always feeling hot)

  • Rapid or otherwise unexplained weight loss

GIVE US YOUR TOP TIPS FOR A HEALTHY THYROID

Dr. Winward:

  1. Vitamin D. Supplement daily with vitamin D, using the middle to high-end of Health Canada Supplementation Guidelines, plus get out in the sunshine!

  2. Selenium. This micronutrient is key to thyroid function since the thyroid gland has the highest selenium content of any tissues in the body. Luckily, just 2 Brazil nuts per day satisfies your daily needs!

  3. Turmeric. This bright yellow spice is is highly anti-inflammatory. It’s best absorbed with fat so try it in a turmeric (“golden milk”) latte or in a curry. 

  4. Gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains that may cause inflammation in the body, especially in those with auto-immune syndromes like psoriasis, lupus, and hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Minimize or avoid gluten for optimal health.

What’s this “adrenal fatigue” we keep hearing about?

Dr. Winward: Your adrenal glands are responsible for the body’s stress response; they’re the glands that produce cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These stress hormones are meant to spike, or increase rapidly, in case of immediate threat, like a lion chasing after you in the Stone Age. (You might have heard of this referred to as the “Fight or Flight” response.)

Modern day stressors like career worries, social conflicts, and mental health issues are continuous and cause the same release of hormones even though our North-American, 21-st century stress level is rarely life or death. Parenting an infant takes this fatigue and everyday stress to a new level!

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Overly intense or excessive amounts of exercise, and long-term dieting and food restriction can also cause the adrenals to churn out too many stress hormones.

Adrenal fatigue is like being in “Fight or Flight” mode — i.e., being chased by a lion — all the time. When your adrenal glands are overworked, symptoms include:

  • Excessive fatigue

  • Brain fog

  • “Tired but wired” syndrome — completely exhausted but can’t seem to relax and rest 

  • Digestive upset

  • Weak immune system

  • Craving sugar and starch, especially late afternoon 

  • Difficulty losing weight

how can we get our bodies out of chronic “Fight or Flight”?

Dr. Winward:

  1. Mindfulness based stress reduction is scientifically to reduce bodily stress and stress hormone levels. Try keeping a brief gratitude journal in the morning or before bed, or even giving gratitude before you eat as a family. Deep breathing and core breathing work well, as does meditation. You can use an app or find free meditation tracks on youtube.

  2. Moderate your coffee intake/caffeine to make life easier for your adrenal glands. Before you have that afternoon cup of coffee, remember the half-life of coffee in the body is 6 hours.

  3. Balance physical stressors like exercise or childcare/housework with physical rest. Be kind to yourself!

  4. Consult a Naturopathic Doctor and add Adaptogenic herbs to your routine. Adaptogens are traditional Chinese + Ayurvedic herbs which genuinely help the body adapt to stress, and lately they’re getting more traction in the Western world. A ND can make you a custom blend or you can buy high-quality tinctures at a good health food store. Try these three Adaptogens:

Where can we get more info?

Dr. Winward does home visits in Toronto, Ontario. She also sees patients in clinic at Barefoot Health in Ajax, Ontario.

Check out Aviva Romm, MD and Midwife, an advocate of traditional remedies for women’s health.

Consult the College of Naturopaths of Ontario (CONO) or your local Naturopathic College to find a ND near you.

Dara Bergeron