This may be one of the most personal things I share on my blog but it’s something that I think more women, especially women of color, should be aware of.
About 6 months into my breastfeeding journey, I began breaking out in hives during Leana’s bedtime nursing sessions. At first I thought we had bed bugs! Or that a mosquito or ant was biting me in the night! Leana & her dad weren’t having any issues though. I started doing a bit of research & found that many women got hives when breastfeeding because of the excess of hormones released + heat contact from where the baby lies. Those seemed like probable options, since the hives were right under the spots where Leana laid. I made an appointment with my primary doctor, who happens to be a black woman whom I love. She’s very thorough & she agreed with me, believing that what I was experiencing was due to an excess of histamine and/or heat that my body was producing, during breastfeeding. She prescribed me Loratadine to help with the itching and I was ok for the next couple months, taking it as needed.
Well it wasn’t long before the hives worsened. They started popping up all over my body, even causing my lips to swell sometimes. I couldn’t tell if I was coming in contact with an allergen, or if my body was just rejecting the breastfeeding, since I was still mostly getting hives when Leana was nursing. I went back to googling, reading forums & searching the Black breastfeeding facebook group I’m in, hoping to find out if what I was experiencing could be attributed to anything else and I started seeing posts on thyroid complications.
I reached back out to my doctor but didn’t mention the thyroid information I read. I didn’t want to believe that I was having an autoimmune issue. My doctor had me see an allergist who almost immediately knew that my thyroid could be the culprit, and he was right. The tests he ran showed that my thyroid levels were extremely high. On average, our Thyroid Peroxidase (TPO) level ranges between 0 & 34 but mine was over 500, Our Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels should be between 0.450 & 4.5 and mine was at 22. These results lead to my Hypothyroidism diagnosis. My primary doctor wondered why I hadn’t complained of any other symptoms but the ones I had weren’t necessarily ones I thought to attribute to my thyroid! Muscle aches, increased exhaustion, brittle/dry hair, memory loss, difficulty losing weight, anxiety/depression & constipation are all symptoms I’ve experienced but I blamed all of that on postpartum hormone regulation. The only symptom that felt abnormal was the hives (AKA chronic urticaria – the technical term).
My doctor believes that after pregnancy. my thyroid just went haywire and essentially stopped producing thyroid hormones at a normal rate. Postpartum Thyroiditis, which refers to both hypo & hyperactive thyroids, is not that common! Only about 3 in 100 women experience it. If untreated, it can lead to a host of other medical conditions so I’m currently taking medication to help even things out.
I wanted to share my experience because I know I’m not alone in battling a perinatal/postpartum medical condition. Often, we ignore signs & symptoms of a greater issue, be it because we’re too “busy” to get it checked out, we trust that the doctors would “let us know” if something was truly wrong, or we just downplay the issue itself. I had my thyroid levels checked during pregnancy & as far as I know, they came back normal! But I was never retested after giving birth.
I also wanted to share because statistically, black women are 3-4x more likely to succumb to a pregnancy-related illness, than white women. These illnesses are normally preventable too. If I hadn’t developed hives, I know that my other symptoms may not have driven me to push for a diagnosis.
I have a few tips that I think could help when it comes to looking after & advocating for your perinatal/postpartum health.
Pay attention to your body! Anything that seems abnormal, please have it checked out! At times, we may think we’re overreacting but that increased worry could lead to the discovery of a true issue
Trust yourself! Even if your doctor may not believe that you are experiencing more than what they believe, fight for your own health. Historically, doctors are known for not believing black women when we speak up about our health. We have to defend ourselves though and push for answers & further testing.
Don’t be ashamed! What I and so many other women experience after childbirth is not always just “a normal postpartum issue”. We have to normalize being honest with what we’re experiencing – it could make all the difference in saving your life.
If possible, seek information & support from a black healthcare professional.. Both my primary doctor & doula are black women. I know that medical negligence can float across the board but having the support of a doctor, midwife or doula of color can help with receiving better support & care. I trust my doctor & I know that I can always reach out to my doula when I have maternal questions or concerns because I know she’s just about seen it all when it comes to maternal health. It’s always great to have someone knowledgeable & supportive in your corner.