Published December 24, 2012
From time to time I get questions from nursing mothers asking whether or not it’s safe to follow a natural thyroid treatment protocol. Without question, women with both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid conditions who are breastfeeding can benefit from natural treatment methods. This of course includes those with autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. With that being said, there are a few contraindications with regards to some of the most commonly recommended herbs, which I’ll discuss during this article.
The good news is that women who are breastfeeding usually don’t need to be as strict when following a natural treatment protocol as those who are pregnant and following such a protocol. While there are certain herbs which are contraindicated, numerous other herbs are safe when nursing, but aren’t considered to be safe during pregnancy. And to be honest, I’m even somewhat conservative when it comes to giving “safe” herbs during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. This doesn’t mean I’m not cautious with nursing mothers, but there is a big difference between a developing fetus and an infant. So while certain herbs are contraindicated during both pregnancy and lactation, usually there is more “flexibility” when it comes to nursing mothers, as some herbs that might cause harm to a developing fetus won’t cause any problems to a nursing infant.
Which Foods Should One Consume When Breastfeeding?
When it comes to diet, both pregnant and lactating women should for the most part eat similar foods. Of course pregnant women might have different cravings, but that’s another story. But obviously you want to eat a healthy diet consisting of mostly whole foods, while minimizing the refined foods and sugars. Eat twice as many vegetables as fruits, and if you eat meat try to stick mostly with lean meats such as chicken, turkey, and fish in moderation. Nuts and seeds are usually fine in moderation. As for consuming gluten, if someone is following a natural treatment protocol I very well might recommend going on a gluten-free trial for four to six weeks, or perhaps for a number of months if someone is gluten sensitive. It’s also best to minimize your consumption of dairy, especially pasteurized cow’s milk, and you also want to limit your intake of unfermented soy.
I probably don’t have to talk about avoiding artificial ingredients, but I will anyway, as you ideally want to avoid artificial sweeteners, and make sure to avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. This of course should be the case with everybody, but those women who are pregnant or breastfeeding really do need to completely avoid these artificial ingredients. Organic is obviously the best way to go with regards to diet, but especially when consuming meats, vegetables, and fruits. Tap water should be avoided, and plenty of purified water should be consumed. Mountain Valley Springs is an excellent quality spring water sold in a glass bottle, and is available in some health food stores, or you can purchase this online. This brand admittedly is expensive, and so if you can’t afford to purchase this then choose a different type of purified water. There is controversy with all of the types available, such as distilled water, reverse osmosis, alkaline water, spring or purified water in a plastic bottle, etc. Getting a whole house filter can be a great option, although this can also be expensive.
Which Herbs Are Contraindicated During Lactation?
With regards to thyroid health, for those nursing mothers with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, Bugleweed is strongly discouraged. In most cases Motherwort is fine to take. Bladderwrack, which is sometimes consumed in hypothyroid conditions, is also strongly discouraged in breastfeeding. On the other hand, some herbs which are compatible with breastfeeding include Ashwaganda, Eleuthero, Gymnema, and Licorice.
Some people with autoimmune thyroid conditions take herbs to help with their immune system health as well, and some of the herbs which are strongly discouraged during breastfeeding include Andrographis, Hemidesmus, Pau D’Arco, and Poke Root. The immune system herbs which are compatible with breastfeeding include Echinacea, Bupleurum, and Rehmmania (which also helps greatly with the adrenals). Of course I always recommend first consulting with a competent natural healthcare professional before taking any herb, and this would definitely be a good idea for any woman who is breastfeeding.
Taking Vitamins And Minerals While Breastfeeding
I covered some of the herbs which are compatible with breastfeeding, and those that should be avoided. But how about taking vitamins and minerals? I think everyone should at least take a good quality multivitamin and multimineral, and it’s also a good idea for most people to take a quality fatty acid on a daily basis. As for whether additional supplements should be taken, this should ideally be determined through testing. For example, if a woman gets a 25 hydroxy vitamin D test and it shows she has a deficiency, then she probably should take vitamin D. The dose required will mainly depend on the levels, although the person’s height and weight may also play a role.
The same concept applies with taking other vitamins and minerals. Many people randomly take a B complex vitamin, selenium, iodine, CoQ10, and many other supplements. In most cases these aren’t going to do any harm to you or your baby, especially when taken in smaller doses, and sometimes they can offer some great benefits. But rather than randomly taking supplements it really is best to get tested to see what you might be deficient in.
Should You Avoid Taking Thyroid Medication During Lactation?
Some women want to know if they should continue to take thyroid medication while breastfeeding. This depends on the situation, and of course I can’t tell someone not to take any medication, as ultimately this is something to discuss with your medical doctor. However, it all comes down to risks vs. benefits. For example, if someone has hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, then taking synthetic or natural thyroid hormone shouldn’t pose any harm to the baby.
With hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease, many doctors believe it is fine for women to take PTU while breastfeeding. Others are concerned that it can suppress thyroid function in the infant. Once again, one needs to consider the risks vs. benefits. If the nursing mother has moderate to severe cardiac symptoms, then it might be a good idea to take the medication and at the same time continue to monitor the thyroid health of the baby. On the other hand, some women will want to take herbs such as Motherwort to manage the symptoms and avoid any type of medication. I understand this situation, and while I will do everything I can for a nursing mother who wants to avoid taking any medication, at the same time I don’t want her to jeopardize her health. So it can be a challenging situation, and while I will offer guidance to my patients who are breastfeeding, ultimately it is up to the woman as to whether or not she wants to take any medication, or go completely natural.
Is It Safe To Detox While You’re Breastfeeding?
I get asked this question every now and then, and in my opinion it really isn’t a good idea to go on a liver detoxification program while breastfeeding, as it is possible that some of these toxins can get into the breast milk. So while I’m definitely supportive of detoxifying, I think it’s best to do it either before someone becomes pregnant, or after one is done nursing.
Speaking of toxins, anyone on a natural treatment protocol will of course want to minimize their exposure to environmental toxins, but this is especially true for those women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. So besides eating foods that are organic, using cleaners and cosmetics that don’t have any harmful chemicals is also a good idea. With regards to nursing mothers, besides the risk of these chemicals getting into the breast milk, there is also the risk of certain cleaners or cosmetics being inhaled by you and the baby. For example, if you wear perfume that has chemicals, this not only can affect your health, but when nursing your baby this can affect his or her health as well.
In summary, most women who are breastfeeding and who have a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition can benefit from natural treatment methods. While taking certain herbs is contraindicated, other herbs are fine to take, and most women can take vitamins and minerals without a problem, although if you’re going to take any individual vitamin or mineral then it is of course best to first test for a deficiency. Eating well is of course essential, and the other lifestyle factors also play a very important role in the health of both you and your baby. Many women who are breastfeeding understandably want to avoid taking medication, and while I’ll try to do everything I can to help my patients who are breastfeeding accomplish this, ultimately it is up to the patient to decide whether or not to take any drugs. Just keep in mind that there are times when taking medication is necessary while nursing. In these scenarios what I recommend is to take the lowest dose of medication that is necessary to manage the symptoms, and at the same time incorporate other components of a natural treatment protocol.