Hypothyroidism in Babies – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

5 min read

Written by Aparna Hari

Aparna Hari

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.

Hypothyroidism in Babies

A newborn baby brings in a lot of joy to parents and family. But some babies can be born with a set of health conditions and challenges too, giving a worrying time for parents. Congenital hypothyroidism is one such condition where a baby is born with an underactive or an under functioning thyroid gland.

So, what is a thyroid gland, then? This butterfly shaped organ is a small gland present in the neck area. It secretes hormones that are vital for metabolism, proper functioning of the brain and body and sexual development and maturation. What causes this gland to go underactive and how do the consequences affect a baby’s life? This article takes you through the various aspects you need to know about this condition in babies.

In This Article

What is Congenital Hypothyroidism in Babies?

Hypothyroidism in babies refers to the condition of the underactive thyroid gland. It is also known as Congenital Hypothyroidism when a newborn baby is born with an under-functioning or a nonfunctioning thyroid gland. Congenital hypothyroidism results in an inability to produce normal thyroid hormones. Low secretion of the thyroid hormone can lead to various health conditions, chief among which are stunted growth and low brain development.

Congenital can affect 1 baby out of 4000. In severe cases, the treatment can be lifelong, and leaving your baby untreated may affect brain growth and result in intellectual disabilities. The good news is now treatment is available, and babies can live a longer life with early diagnosis and the right treatment.

Causes of Hypothyroidism in Babies

Hypothyroidism in Babies inforgraphics

Congenital hypothyroidism condition in newborn babies is generally caused by the following:

  • The genetic defect that may affect the production of thyroid hormone.
  • Poorly formed or missing thyroid gland. Sometimes it happens due to an abnormally developed thyroid gland.
  • The deficiency of iodine in the diet of the mother during pregnancy can also cause hypothyroidism.
  • Anti-thyroid treatment of radioactive thyroid treatment during pregnancy can also result in hypothyroidism condition.
  • The use of prolonged medicines can also disturb thyroid hormone production. Consumption of medicines during pregnancy such as sulfonamides, anti-thyroid drugs, and lithium can cause hypothyroidism.
  • If the mother is taking thyroid medication during pregnancy, in some cases the baby may inherit the condition too, but this condition is temporary.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Babies

In infants, symptoms of hyperthyroidism include feeding problems, irritability, hypertension, exophthalmos, tachycardia, frontal bossing, goiter, and microcephaly. But in the early stages, you can notice diarrhea, vomiting, and thrive. Temporary hypothyroidism usually recovers within 6 months.

The medicinal course is longer and depends on the severity level of the signs and symptoms. Also, the symptom’s severity depends on whether the mother is consuming an anti-thyroid drug or not. If the mother doesn’t have drugs, the infant may be born with hypothyroidism.

Some other signs and symptoms of congenital hypothyroidism in babies are:

  • Stunted growth
  • Lack of weight gain
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Thickened facial features
  • Poor feeding
  • Abnormal bone growth
  • Thickened facial features
  • Mental retardation
  • Excessive sleep
  • Less crying
  • Yellowing of the skin
  • Whites of the eyes as in case of jaundice
  • Hoarse voice
  • Low muscle tone
  • Floppiness
  • Unusual large tongue
  • Cool and dry skin
  • Swelling near the navel
  • Pale yellow skin.

These are some other unusual signs and symptoms showing that your baby is suffering from hypothyroidism. Early diagnosing can help in recovering from the condition faster. If the condition is severe, babies may have to take prolonged treatment to live healthier lives.

How Common is Congenital Hypothyroidism?

Congenital hypothyroidism is extremely rare. According to an article published in the journal National Library of Medicine, this condition usually affects 1 in 2000-4000 infants. The condition can affect more female babies as compared to male babies. Earlier, treating such conditions was not possible, but with medical advancements, now treatment is available, and babies can live healthier lives with the right treatment.

Diagnosis of Congenital Hypothyroidism in Babies

The following methods can diagnose congenital hypothyroidism in babies:

1. Thyroid Function Tests

Thyroid Function Tests

Blood tests known as thyroid function tests will help detect the levels of three hormones – T3, T4 and TSH. Abnormal levels of these hormones will clearly indicate a thyroid problem.

For mothers and babies who are at high risk, the hospitals will check the level of TSH and T4 within 3-5 days after the baby is born. They will repeat the test once again for the baby within 12 to 14 days. In case of no anomalies, the infant will undergo another checkup after 3 months to completely rule out the possibility of the disease or to check for its presence.

2. Thyroid Ultrasonography or Scan

Thyroid Ultrasonography

In some cases, the doctor may also prescribe an ultrasound scan or a similar imaging test when they need more information.

Treatment of Hypothyroidism in Babies

The most common treatment for hypothyroidism in babies is a thyroid supplement pill called levothyroxine. In most cases, the baby will have to take this medication for the rest of their life depending on the root cause of the condition. The dosage and duration will be decided by the doctor based on the test reports and the condition of the baby.

Your doctor may recommend you powder the pill and mix it in your breast milk or formula milk before giving it to your baby. If your baby is on this medication, you must make sure to give it to them every day without missing a single dose and have regular testing and checkups with the doctor.

Hypothyroidism in babies is rare but not unheard of. But having said that, the condition can be kept under control in most cases and is completely treatable in some cases. If you find any suspected symptoms of hypothyroidism in your baby, do take them to the doctor at the earliest. Early detection can help keep your baby healthy and life a completely normal life without any complications.


1. Can Congenital Hypothyroidism Be Prevented?

It is not possible to prevent congenital hypothyroidism. But you can provide the right treatment at the right time to prevent long-term side effects from the disease. Before starting treatment, proceed with diagnosing and guidance of the doctor for treatment.

2. Is Congenital Hypothyroidism Serious?

Congenital hypothyroidism is not serious when detected at the right time and treated properly. If neglected, this thyroid defect can lead to problems such as slow growth and learning disabilities in babies.

3. Is Primary Congenital Hypothyroidism Common in Babies?

Congenital hypothyroidism is rare in babies. It affects 1 in 2000-4000 babies. But the primary congenital hypothyroidism in babies can be treated and cured within 6 months. Make sure to have the right treatment from the doctors and track the symptoms in the babies.

Read Also: Congenital Nystagmus in Babies- Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Aparna Hari,MBA in Marketing,P.G. Diploma in Human Resource Management from IGNOU Bachelor of Sciences (Home Science) from Nagarjuna University

Her experience in impactful writing combined with her background in Home Sciences makes Aparna the perfect candidate for content writing in the pregnancy and parenting niche.Read more.

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