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Breastfeeding with Hyperthyroidism

June Isis Evasco
Rizal, The Philippines
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, pp. 22-23

I was diagnosed with Diffuse Toxic Goiter (DTG) when my daughter was nine months old and still nursing. DTG is a type of hyperthyroidism, which causes the body to produce an overabundance of thyroid hormones. I finally had an explanation for the unusual heart palpitations I had been experiencing, along with nervousness, "glaring eyes," intolerance to heat, muscle weakness, and unexplained weight loss. However, I knew, even on that fateful day of my diagnosis, that I would continue to breastfeed.

My determination to continue breastfeeding was not just about the biologically favorable odds -- for instance, the lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer, lactational amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation), and the relaxation I felt when breastfeeding. A big part was emotional too. Eye-to-eye contact brought an irreplaceable feeling of trust between me and my baby. Breastfeeding was very calming during vaccination times, too. When my baby was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, and had to be hospitalized, she was given antibiotics intravenously. I was able to nurse her before and after the antibiotics were administered. She cried a little bit, but I knew that our close contact was a deep consolation to her.

You need to see a lot of specialists when you are a breastfeeding mother with hyperthyroidism. These include an endocrinologist, a cardiologist, a lactation consultant or a counselor, and a pediatrician. They need to monitor not just you, but your baby as well.

At first, my family was a bit hesitant about my decision to continue breastfeeding. It is common practice in the Philippines to stop breastfeeding when an illness arises. However, I gave them information from experts -- La Leche League, Dr. Jack Newman, and Dr. Thomas Hale -- which showed that breastfeeding can be compatible with particular medications. DTG made my heart beat abnormally fast. To my family's amazement, breastfeeding actually calmed my heart rate. When I talked to my lactation counselor, she suggested that it might be because of prolactin, a hormone that produces feelings of relaxation.

My doctors were initially very uncomfortable with my plan to continue breastfeeding. These are doctors who are at the top of their field. But I, too, had a qualification that equaled their accomplishments -- I was a mom who believed that breastmilk is the best nutrition for my baby. My persistence paid off. I love my daughter so much that I'd have moved heaven and earth to breastfeed her. I took the time to tell each of my doctors that I really wanted to breastfeed. My pediatrician, who was pregnant herself, was originally not very interested in breastfeeding. But I think she sensed my commitment and ended up buying a breast pump just like mine.

As a working, nursing mom, I had to time my medicine schedule to fit in pumping and nursing. My rule was to breastfeed or pump first, before taking the medicines. This meant waking up in the middle of the night to pump my milk. Despite a near bout of thyroid storm, in which the body is unable to control the sudden rush of thyroid hormones and an initial intake of four times the normal dose of thyroid and heart medicines, I fastidiously carried on breastfeeding.

I acquired nicknames in the office. I was known as "The Voice" because I chose to attend meetings through telephone conference calls so I could go to an empty room and pump while still taking part in the meeting. I found the mute button a very handy invention. Sometimes I accidentally forgot to place calls on mute, leading to questions such as, "Are you playing with the vacuum cleaner?"

Some colleagues called me the "Lady With the Cool Machine." A male colleague attempted to bribe me once if he could use my portable breast pump cooler as an emergency storage for cooling cans of beer. I refused!

I think it is important to let colleagues know of your intention to breastfeed at work. At our office, we have a room exclusively for nursing mothers. I use my break times and lunch break to pump in there. I adjust my schedule, arriving at work a little bit early and leaving a little bit late to compensate for the milk pumping times. My office is child friendly. We have a daycare center and, if necessary, we can even bring our babies to work. One time I attended a meeting with my baby in a sling. My colleagues were impressed that my baby just slept the whole time. They had no idea that I was breastfeeding her during the meeting!

It takes commitment, support from your family and colleagues, and a dash of luck to make breastfeeding, working, and having a medical condition work. My husband is my number one champion. He is my cheerleader, my number one supporter, and my breastfeeding buddy.

My hormones have now stabilized. I am taking the normal doses of medicines. And I am still nursing my sixteen-month-old little girl, for whom I am just putting the finishing touches to a unicorn's horn on a picture that we are painting together.

Adapted from a story in LLL Asia's "Close To The Heart"

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