Among the many postpartum changes we hear and read about, postpartum hair loss is something many mamas face. If you're among the 30% to 60% of women who are experiencing hair loss in the months following birth, you may be wondering if your strands will ever return to normal. The good news? It will—postpartum hair shedding is a temporary phenomenon.
Hair changes in pregnancy
During pregnancy, your estrogen and progesterone levels soar, particularly from the second trimester. Estrogen, in particular, has a powerful effect on multiple systems in the body, including the skin and sebaceous glands, and also on the underlying growth pattern of hair. Many women notice improvements in skin and hair quality during pregnancy and fast-growing, hydrated hair. The changes in hair can be attributed to the way estrogen impacts the specific pattern of growth unique to hair.
Our hair follicles, the small organs that produce hair, operate in a pattern of growth, rest and fall that repeats many times in your lifetime. Usually, each follicle follows its own pattern in its own time and in this manner—you are continually shedding at a rate of about 50-100 hairs a day.
During pregnancy, the excess estrogen encourages the hair to enter and stay in the growth phase, meaning it will grow faster and shed less, somewhat synchronizing the follicles in their growth.
What causes postpartum hair loss?
Following labor and birth, estrogen and other hormone levels fall rapidly to pre-pregnancy levels. In addition, cortisol levels remain high, and in some women, thyroid hormones can get out of balance. This creates a rapid synchronous transition of follicles out of their growth phase and into the resting phase. Couple this with the lack of sleep, potential nutritional stress and the demands of caring for a newborn and a perfect storm for hair loss is in place.
What is important to note is that when the follicles enter the resting phase, they begin to shed after 3 to 4 months. Scientifically, this process is known as telogen effluvium. The good news is that the fall is actually precipitated in most cases by the emergence of a new hair that has regenerated from stem cells in the scalp.
And, it is important to remember that the hair fall does not happen until 3 to 4 months after birth, so implementing strategies early can help reduce the severity of the issue.
How to prevent postpartum hair loss
1. Take care of your hair
When your follicles are in the telogen phase (the resting phase of the hair follicle), they are in their most fragile state and can be dislodged easily. To avoid premature shedding, be gentle with your hair when brushing, washing and drying, and avoid tight hair styles that place too much traction on the follicles.
A silk pillowcase can also help to make sure your hair isn't pulled out in your sleep. Being kind to your hair will ensure your telogen hairs stay in the scalp as long as possible.
2. Maintain a healthy diet
While the hormonal changes that contribute to postpartum hair loss can be unavoidable, nutritional changes and added demands on the body's energy after birth can also mess with the hair cycle. When the body is in nutrient imbalance, it shuttles energy to essential organ systems such as the brain, lungs, heart and liver, and away from unnecessary functions such as growing hair.
Such changes can exacerbate or extend the period of postnatal hair loss. To avoid this, make sure you eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein, leafy greens, fruits and vegetables.
3. Get nutritional support
It's not always easy for a new family or growing family to prepare good balanced meals, or even eat at regular times after the arrival of a baby, To help your body get the nutrients it needs, try taking a postnatal supplement–these will supply the vitamins and minerals needed to minimize changes to your hair. Always ask the advice of your physician before starting any supplementation.
4. Minimize stress
Stress hormones such as cortisol can have a negative impact on your hair cycle, compounding the hormonal changes after birth. While it may not be easy to relax with a newborn, aim to take some relaxing time out just for you. Try meditation or indulge in a massage or spa day. Gentle exercise such as modified postnatal yoga can also help reduce stress levels.
5. Change your style
Many new moms opt for a shorter, easy-to-manage hairstyle. Not only can shorter hair be styled to hide thinner hair, but shorter hair will also help when the new hair starts to grow in. All or most of the hair that sheds will grow back, but the process takes time. New hairs will appear as fly-aways, so this hairstyle will help the newer hairs blend with the remaining hair and they can grow out together.
6. Add volume + fortify
Look for gentle, lightweight cleansers and conditioners specifically designed to volumize, preferably clean and natural, with added ingredients such as keratin for fortification and baobab to provide hydration. Protect your remaining strands and add volume by using volumizing and texturizing products. A dry shampoo can also boost volume and texture. Use sparingly and in a well-ventilated area.
7. Monitor your hair cycle
While some hair changes are inevitable for many women, there is natural technology that can help keep the hair cycle healthy. Professional activators are topically applied serums that use botanicals such as glycyrrhizin from licorice root, salicylic acid and a blend of botanicals such as sanguisorba and Japanese rose hips that act on the hair growth cycle, preventing excess hair fall and boosting growth. Topical activators can be safely used during breastfeeding and can naturally support a healthy hair cycle, while the companion volume-boosting and fortifying shampoos, conditioners and hair masks have been specifically designed to support during excess hair fall and hair thinning.
A version of this post was originally published on Aug. 29, 2019. It has been updated.