This is Part 1 of my Pregnancy & Autoimmune Disease Series. The other posts in this series include:
This is my 3rd (hopefully) full-term pregnancy. My 7th pregnancy overall.
Before our 1st daughter was born, I experienced early miscarriages. Some call these “chemical pregnancies.” They happened one after another after another within the course of a year.
This just so happened to always be a fear of mine, ever since the day I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. I had an inkling autoimmune issues could contribute to pregnancy difficulties. To me, it made sense… if my immune system is attacking my own body, then what’s going to stop it from attacking my baby?
I plan on sharing my entire story of how I discovered and overcame my issues regarding my recurrent miscarriages in a different post, but for now I’ll say that I don’t really think it had anything to do with my Hashimoto’s or thyroid antibodies.
(I’ll also say that if you are experiencing infertility troubles, or recurrent miscarriages like I did, then please know, you are not alone. I know that heartache. It’s terrible, but I’m here to tell you to have hope and do not give up… and also consider reading the book I mention a few paragraphs down.)
Within a year of delivering our first child, I was pregnant again with our second – still had Hashimoto’s and thyroid antibodies. That pregnancy went super well. Zero complications.
But, the delivery? Not so much… and after a very unexpected and traumatic series of events, I found myself in an entirely new world of autoimmune issues and developed new antibodies associated with multiple autoimmune diseases, not just Hashimoto’s. I still don’t have an official diagnosis for what condition I developed, aside from the generalized idea that it’s in the mixed connective tissue disease family.
So, while I knew I could get pregnant and carry a full-term pregnancy with just Hashimoto’s, a new fear crept in as we started to think about conceiving our third:
Would all these new autoimmune antibodies prevent me from successfully conceiving and carrying another full-term pregnancy?
Would I need pharmaceutical intervention (prednisone, hydroxychloroquine, etc.) even though I’ve never needed it before due to my success with using diet, supplements, and lifestyle to reverse my autoimmune symptoms?
Right now, I do know one thing… We did conceive, and it took us about 5 months.
As I write this, I just finished my first trimester, and so far, the baby has a healthy heartbeat and is growing/measuring on-time. So yes, it appears, that even with my positive anti-nuclear (ANA) antibodies, and anti-dsDNA antibodies, and more… I’m still able to successfully conceive without the use of steroids or other pharmaceuticals.
Obviously, we will have to wait and see regarding the full-term part. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t have worries, because I do… I think many moms do, even if they don’t have autoimmune issues. But I’m passing those worries off to God and letting Him take care of them, trusting He will guide me along the way. It’s a daily practice to let go.
In the meantime, my plan is to do everything in my power to keep inflammation low (even if that means using pharmaceuticals if something were to indicate I need them) and my autoimmune antibodies stable, despite the hormonal changes and intense morning sickness.
So… that’s what this post [Part 1] and my next one [Part 2] is about – how I prepared for this pregnancy, my plan for managing it, and how I developed it by working with my doctors and also reading a spectacularly helpful book.
If you have autoimmune issues, and trouble conceiving/keeping a full-time pregnancy, and don’t have answers – you need to read this book!
It’s called: Is Your Body Baby-Friendly? By Dr. Alan Beer. Amazing last name. Unfortunately, he’s deceased now.
This book is a gem and I feel like it’s buried deep, down beneath a pile of other fertility books where no one will ever find it. I get it… the cover is kind of ugly. But, they always say – never judge a book by its cover. That is especially true for this one.
It validated my concerns regarding autoimmune issues and fertility. Up until reading it, I only theorized the link in my head and read a few studies, but no doctor I’ve worked with ever acknowledged it could be an issue.
(FYI: the book mentions IVF quite a bit, which is of no interest to me personally, but I still found it super helpful… there is plenty of knowledge to be learned and applied by everyone, regardless of your stance on fertility treatments.)
For instance, in the chapter: Immunity to Pregnancy, Dr. Beer says:
“ANAs (anti-nuclear antibodies) are often associated with hyperactivated NK (natural killer) cells which can cause immediate inflammatory response against the embryo, therefore increasing the likelihood of implantation failure or early loss. Alternately, the damage may occur later in the pregnancy when immune activity against the placenta destroys its ability to function.”
Then, in the chapter: Conditions Associated with an Inflammatory Immune Response, he says…
“Many women with anti-thyroid antibodies have activated NK (natural killer) cells that have caused the thyroid damage, as well as implantation failures, miscarriages or infertility. Even if the thyroid is treated, the NK cells remain active and need their own therapy. I do not just worry about thyroid antibody levels, I worry about the NK cell activity and levels that have caused the thyroid problems. All women with anti-thyroid antibodies have activated NK cells in my opinion, until proven otherwise.”
Point made. I KNEW IT!
I read the book as we were trying to conceive. On one hand, I totally freaked out and regretted reading it because it caused me intense anxiety. All this, even though I had no evidence (other than antibodies) that I would have problems carrying another full-term pregnancy.
On the other hand, I took comfort in knowing I had no issues carrying two full-term pregnancies even when my thyroid antibodies were way higher than they are now.
Have you ever seen the movie Tangled, when Rapunzel leaves her treehouse and is crying hysterically one moment and then totally overwhelmed with joy and happiness the next? That’s what I was like for a couple weeks. (If you haven’t seen the movie… you should watch it. It’s a good one.)
Anyway, the best part about the book is that it’s filled with solutions to these types of issues. Many of which would require the help of a knowledgeable doctor who has access to specific treatments and pharmaceuticals (there’s a list of clinics to work with), and others you can do on your own (usually involving diet/lifestyle).
I took all these solutions and applied what I could to my personal situation.
Now, some people might think this is all overkill, but anyone who’s experienced miscarriages knows the fear never really leaves you. Knowing I now had the slightest potential of complications with multiple autoimmune issues under my belt, I decided to be proactive and make sure I was doing everything I could to prevent a miscarriage from happening again.
Before I go any further, I need to mention that I am not a doctor or practitioner of any kind. This is not medical advice. A knowledgeable healthcare team is absolutely needed, especially for pregnancy, as there are risks associated with autoimmune disease and pregnancy for both mother and baby that need to be monitored and treated by a medical professional. It’s very important to start talking with your doctor(s) 6-12 months BEFORE trying to conceive to make sure you’re taking the right steps for conceiving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
So, here’s how I prepared for pregnancy:
Step 1 was to talk to my doctor and discuss my situation. Since my autoimmune symptoms were pretty much non-existent for over a year now and I was not on any pharmaceuticals that could cause issues during pregnancy, he agreed this was a good time to start trying.
So, once I got the go ahead, I decided to “check a few boxes”, just to make sure all systems were working properly and I was aware of any potential complications. I started with the basics:
Am I actually ovulating? Does everything about my cycle seem normal?
Yes, after charting, using ovulation test strips, etc., everything checked out fine. Moving on.
Next up was to take a look at everything Dr. Beer mentions in his book and narrow it down to issues I might have based on my health history. Obviously, I already knew of my antibodies, but there was one thing in particular I’ve only been tested for once – antiphospholipid antibodies.
The last time I was tested for them in the spring of 2019, I came back slightly positive for one of them. These antibodies are common in people with Lupus and other mixed connective tissue disease and can cause serious problems during pregnancy due to blood clotting issues. Dr. Beer refers to them as “the antibodies that can switch the baby’s life support system off.”
That’s just horrible.
Dr. Beer also mentions other blood-clotting related disorders, many of which are genetic (Factor V Leiden, MTHFR, etc.). But I already knew my status of those things and they were not of concern, so my focus was on the antiphospholipid syndrome.
I brought the test request for an antiphospholipid panel to my OBGYN and he agreed to it. To my relief, I was now negative.
Now, I started to feel a little less anxious.
I was almost completely symptom-free from all autoimmune issues by using diet, lifestyle, and a small dose of thyroid hormone replacement. Even though my the majority of my antibodies were still present, they were low (some laboratory ranges even consider some of them negative) and stable. Many doctors strongly suggest to achieve remission of autoimmune symptoms for at least 6 months before trying to conceive, and I definitely achieved that.
But, just to be extra extra safe, I implemented a few additional things:
- An herbal anti-viral supplement recommended by my acupuncturist to tackle a 6-month long herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) outbreak on my lips/mouth.
- A diet tweak
- Oral IgG supplements
- Systemic enzymes
Then, something weird and unexpected happen – a sign I was definitely on the right track and my body was growing stronger and healthier by the day.
First, I’ll elaborate on the anti-viral supplement, diet tweak, IgG supplements and systemic enzymes.
Herbal Anti-Viral Supplement
So, I had this herpes (HSV-1) outbreak on my mouth for 6 months. I know that’s gross and all but NOTHING SEEMED TO HELPED IT GO AWAY! I literally never had an outbreak (that I can remember) in my entire life. I didn’t even know HSV-1 was in my body, but I’m not surprised as it is commonly associated with autoimmune disease. I don’t know if I’ve always had it and it’s laid dormant for… forever, or if I just got it somehow.
Anyways, since I couldn’t clear it, I wondered if my body’s “viral load” was too high, perhaps indicating my immune system just didn’t have the strength it needed to fight it, which is something I did not want when I’m trying to keep it balanced to have a healthy pregnancy!
Out of desperation, I asked my acupuncturist for help and she suggested an oral herbal supplement called Herbal ARV. It’s a Chinese medicine herbal supplement, and I cannot pronounce any of the ingredients.
It was one of those blind-trust moments. I had no idea what these herbs were, or if they were going to send me into an autoimmune flare, but… I really respect and trust my acupuncturist. Sometimes, when you’re out of options, you just have to take the leap!
And I did. Within just 1-2 weeks of taking those herbs, my mouth cleared up. Remember, this is after 6 months. But, since I can never do just one thing at a time, I also implemented the following diet tweak, and other supplements… so keep reading.
My Diet Tweak
I follow a personalized Autoimmune Protocol type of diet so I already had an established anti-inflammatory foundation, but decided to focus on three things:
- I added more raw vegetables (at least 8 cups a day).
- Dramatically reduced my intake of roasted and sautéed vegetables, all oil (except olive oil), and meat. I also ate more fish (sardines and anchovies).
- Drank more water (at least 96 oz per day).
The inspiration for these tweaks came from Dr. Brooke Goldner’s high-raw vegan diet protocol for reversing autoimmune disease – the same diet she used to reverse her severe case of Lupus (including antiphospholipid syndrome), which allowed her to carry two healthy, full-term pregnancies without the use of any drugs.
I should note: I did not go completely vegan, I just took a few key pieces from her protocol and applied them to my diet.
Oral Serum-Derived Bovine Immunoglobulin (SBI) Supplements
Immunoglobulin G (IgG) is the most abundant antibody in the body and can bind to & neutralize a variety of environmental toxins, viruses, pathogens, etc. This allows the body to safely remove them before doing any damage. They also help repair leaky gut by maintaining a healthy gut barrier.
Many people supplement with colostrum (mother’s first milk) from cows to get these benefits, since it contains a plethora of these antibodies. I tried that at one point, but there was still enough casein in the product to give my usual throat-swelling reaction to dairy.
Nowadays, you can purchase a concentrated dairy-free supplemental form of these immunoglobulins. Before we even thought about trying to conceive, I started using them because I was having the most difficult time reintroducing foods on the Autoimmune Protocol Diet. Every time I reintroduced something, I flared… sometimes for weeks. I heard personal stories of how IgG could help neutralize the food reactions and decided to give them a whirl.
They worked amazingly and dramatically reduced my flares down to just 1-2 days.
The supplement I use is called MegaIgG2000. You can read more about the powerful benefits of the supplement here.
But, due to the cost ($99 for a month’s supply if I wanted to use a similar dosage to what they’ve used in studies), I slowed my role and considered dropping them all together. It hurt me inside, but that’s a significant chunk of money that could pay for other important things like… you know, food for our family.
Well, then I read in Is Your Body Baby Friendly? that Dr. Beer used intravenous immunoglobulin G therapy (also known as IVIG).
“IVIG is a powerful and safe tool to modulate abnormal responses of the immune system. It is used for patients who need immune rejuvenation and has the wonderful property of lessening rejection reactions in patients with transplants. It also calms the autoimmune damaging responses in patients with diseases like rheumatoid arthritis by decreasing the natural killer function by 50%, although this is short lived and subsequent infusions are usually required.”
So, before I continue, I want to make it clear that while both therapies focus on the use of IgG, they are not the same thing. Dr. Beer’s therapy is intravenous, made from human plasma (requiring literally thousands of blood donors to make a batch), and is in very high concentrations.
The IgG supplements I’m taking are oral, made from bovine (cow) serum, and lower in concentration.
However, given that I personally had such a positive response to the oral IgG supplementation, and I see that Dr. Beer utilized it in some form for his patients with great success, I was encouraged to continue them at least while trying to conceive, and for the first few weeks of pregnancy while my body is still adjusting.
I first read about systemic enzymes (also known as proteolytic enzymes) in Dr. Izabella Wentz’s book: Hashimoto’s Protocol: a 90-Day Plan for Reversing Thyroid Symptoms and Getting Your Life Back. These enzymes can modulate the immune system and bring it into balance, which is totally what I’ve been after for years.
In the book, she mentions:
“Systemic enzymes break down inflammatory cytokines that are seen in autoimmune disease and contain protease that may also be involved with breaking down pathogens such as bacteria and parasites. These enzymes also speed up tissue repair by reducing inflammation. Additionally, the enzymes reduce the antibodies to foods and to the thyroid by breaking down the CICs that are formed in autoimmune disease.”
(You can read more about how systemic enzymes can help with Hashimoto’s Disease by reading this article by Dr. Izabella Wentz.)
Sounds pretty amazing, right? So, I was curious… do these also help with supporting a pregnancy? Have they been studied? Are they even safe?
It seems so. According to Natural Fertility Info, systemic enzymes can benefit fertility in many ways:
- They have an anti-inflammatory effect
- Help modulate the immune system, including one study that has shown they may help to prevent the rejection of the fetus
- Break down scar tissue
- Improve blood flow, making it less “sticky”
- Cleanse the blood and help bring fresh, oxygenated blood to the uterus, ovaries, and eggs.
Anyway, I decided to give them a whirl. The brand I chose is called Fibrenza and I buy it here (I subscribe to save more money). I take 2 capsules in the morning and 2 at night on an empty stomach at least an hour before eating. It’s very important to take them away from food.
Well, then guess what happened?
Something about this combination of things clicked. Within a month… heck, probably not even a month. Maybe 2-3 weeks, I felt the familiar symptoms of a thyroid medication overdose: uncontrollable anxiety and heart palpitations. I don’t think I slept for like a week. I felt mentally insane.
It’s a really terrible feeling. I’ve experienced it enough times to know that the only solution is to decrease thyroid medication. So I did, by ¼ grain. (My dosage at the time was ½ grain daily.)
**I did this while working with my doctor. Weaning off thyroid medication is a delicate process, and it requires the oversight of a knowledgeable doctor. Please never attempt this on your own!
A week later, I felt better. I was only taking ¼ grain a day, the lowest dose I’ve ever taken in my whole life, and feeling pretty good.
Then boom, I found out I’m pregnant after 5 months of trying. I figured, just like all other pregnancies, I’d have to immediately increase my thyroid dose to support the growing baby.
Well, I was wrong about that. Even while pregnant, I eventually had to go from taking the ¼ grain of thyroid medication every day to every other day.
I know how important optimal thyroid levels are during pregnancy, so I kind of freaked out. Within the first 10 weeks of my pregnancy, I had my thyroid hormone levels and TSH checked twice. All was normal.
What is happening???
I don’t know, but… after taking thyroid medication for 10 years, I figured my thyroid was permanently damaged from my raging Hashimoto’s attack. Apparently, it’s not.
The human body is amazing.
After explaining this phenomenon with my acupuncturist, she brought up a good point and mentioned that the herbal supplements, paired with the diet, IgG, and systemic enzymes could have significantly reduced my body’s viral load.
Many autoimmune conditions, especially Hashimoto’s are linked to viruses and infections the body can’t seem to clear (read: Could a Virus Be Your Hashimoto’s Root Cause?). Once you clear or dramatically reduce these, amazing healing things can happen! Like total regeneration of your thyroid!
Anyways, so that’s how I prepared for this pregnancy. I found the book, talked to my doctor, and checked off a few boxes to make sure all systems were a go before getting pregnant.
And THEN in my quest to make sure I was doing all I could to support this pregnancy by clearing viruses, eating an anti-inflammatory and hyper-nourishing diet, using targeted supplements to reduce inflammation, etc… I somehow ended up finding the magic formula to facilitate unexpected healing of my thyroid.
In my next post, I share my plan for managing my pregnancy, including what diet I’m following, prenatal and supplements I’m taking, what doctors I’m working with, etc.
See you over there. 😉
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Hi! I’m Anna, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. After managing my own autoimmune diseases using lifestyle, habit, and mindset changes, I now work to teach others how to navigate the treacherous and confusing journey of chronic illness living. I firmly believe YOU hold the power to question, think critically, and become your own rock-solid advocate in a world full of unhealthy habits. Consider me, and my husband, Frank, your autoimmune disease health coaches. Are you ready?!