Pregnancy comes with many beauty perks (for most): glowy, plump skin, thicker hair, and stronger nails. But, unfortunately, once you give birth, some of those beauty benefits fade away — and the postpartum effects quickly kick in. I had heard from many of my mom friends about the dreaded postpartum hair loss, and was terrified of not only losing my amazing pregnancy hair, but ending up with thinner, finer (and fewer!) strands than I’d ever had before.
My beauty reporter sense kicked in and I decided to get to the bottom of postpartum hair loss, including what causes it, how to handle it, and ways to minimize the damage.
What causes postpartum hair loss?
Before getting into hair loss as it relates specifically to pregnancy, it’s important to understand how hair grows. “Hair growth is cyclical and includes three phases: the growth phase (anagen), transition (catagen), and rest (telogen),” explains dermatologist Dr. Deanne Robinson, president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology® of Connecticut. “Typically, about 85 percent of your hair is in the anagen growth cycle, and the rest are in the catagen and telogen phases.” That means that it’s normal to lose up to 100 telogen hairs daily. When you’re pregnant, though, your hormones shift, causing less shedding and more growth (hence the glorious, thick head of hair during those nine months).
If you’ve ever experienced a great deal of stress, you know that it can cause hair loss. Your body sees your baby being delivered as such a stress, and a shift in hairs from the anagen to telogen phases can occur, notes Robinson. “This results in an increased hair loss of resting hairs,” she explains.” It appears like a substantial loss because you're losing all of the hair you didn't lose doing pregnancy at once.”
Having a cesarean section can also impact hair loss, says Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist and brand president of Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic®. The blood loss and shock to your system from surgery can send more hair into the resting phase and cause you to shed more than normal.
When can I expect this hair loss?
According to Kingsley, approximately 50 percent of new moms experience postpartum hair loss. (So if you’re lucky, you may not face it at all.) The shedding usually starts about three months after giving birth, but can be delayed when breastfeeding due to the hormones your body is continuing to produce.
The good news: it is all totally normal and temporary, says Robinson. The hair growth cycle will get back on track as your hormones stabilize, which typically happens six to twelve months post delivery. While there isn’t anything you can do to prevent this hair loss (you have to let nature run its course, as they say), you can try to support the new growth of hair to help it thrive.
If you're concerned that your hair loss seems excessive, you should discuss with your doctor who can screen for some common postpartum conditions like hypothyroidism or iron-deficiency anemia, which can also contribute to heavy shedding.
How can I protect my hair postpartum?
Robinson suggests using a silk pillowcase, like Slip’sTM version ($85), to avoid wear and tear on your hair while you're sleeping. (They're great for skin, too, for that same reason!) She advises being extra gentle with your hair and scalp during this time to minimize breakage of the new hair growing in, which tends to be fine and delicate, especially around the hairline. To minimize breakage, Kingsley suggests doing a weekly pre-shampoo conditioning treatment, like Philip Kingsley® Elasticizer® ($30). You apply to damp hair, leave on for at least 20 minutes, and then shampoo it out, conditioning just the ends afterwards with a lightweight conditioner.
Nutraceutical supplements, such as Nutrafol® and Viviscal®, are another option. They contain low levels of biotin and antioxidants to help support the growth of hair. However, be sure to consult with your doctor if and when considering adding new supplements into your routine to make sure if they’re right for you.
Kingsley notes that diet can play a big role in hair growth, especially when breastfeeding. “You often don’t take care of yourself post-pregnancy and neglect your own physical health and nutrition,” she explains. “It’s important to eat healthy — make sure you are eating all of your meals and consuming enough protein and complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat toast, brown rice, butternut squash, and more.”
Should I change up my haircare and styling routine in the name of preserving my hair?
Many people avoid shampooing, because this is when they see most of the hair loss. This can actually backfire, says Kingsley, and cause the scalp to become irritated and flaky, which can exacerbate hair shedding. You want to shampoo every other day (three days at most) to keep the scalp environment clean and healthy to support hair growth.
It’s also important to choose the right products for your hair during this fragile time. “You want to look for products that will bulk up individual hair strands,” says KMSTM Hair stylist and educator Sonna Brado. Switch to a volumizing or body-building shampoo (like Kérastase® Bain Densité, $33) and always use a heat protectant spray when styling with a blow dryer or iron to prevent heat damage.
As you apply these styling products, though, try to be aware of where you are applying them. You should only apply products that have the words “root booster” or something similar onto the roots — everything else should be slicked on from mid-hair shaft to ends. Otherwise, they can weigh hair down, which not only makes strands appear flat, but could promote hair fall and loss.
Another characteristic that could promote loss is how you brush your hair. When hair is falling out, it tends to get snarled. If you brush through it roughly, it can cause more fall out. It may sound like common sense, but take extra care when brushing your hair during this transitional time. Kingsley suggests starting at the tips of your strands and gradually working your way up, using either a wide-toothed comb or brush with rounded plastic balls at the ends. We like the Wet Brush® ($9), which features flexible bristles that glide (instead of tear) through hair.
Lastly, this could be a good time to try a new part in your hair, says Brado. If the side where you normally part your hair is thinner, switch to the opposite side to give you more volume. You could also cut a few inches off — losing this weight to your strands will naturally create a fuller look. You should avoid tight ponytails (think scrunchie, not a snug elastic) and anything else that might stress this new growth.
Postpartum hair loss is no joke, but there is an end in sight — and many things to help your hair along its new re-growth journey.
Dr. Deanne Robinson is a paid Allergan® consultant.
Some complimentary products were provided to the author for the purpose of writing this article.
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