It’s one of the least desirable side effects of pregnancy and childbirth, but noticing an increased level of hair fall– even if it seems dramatic – is a normal and temporary part of the postpartum period.
It all comes down to hormones and how they interact with the hair’s normal growth phases. “Pregnancy-related hair fall can be due to increased and fluctuating levels of hormones in the blood or stresses on the body,” says Kathryn Jones, founder of UAE skincare brand KJ Serums. “Iron or other nutrient deficiencies can also be a contributing factor and so it's very important to ensure that you are taking the correct pregnancy supplements if required.”
What causes postpartum hair fall?
“All hair has a growth phase, termed anagen, and a resting phase, called telogen,” explains Elizabeth CW Hughes, MD and member of the American Academy of Dermatology. Around 90% of your hair is usually in the growth (anagen) phase, while the other 10% goes into a resting phase (telogen). “During telogen, the resting hair remains in the follicle until it is pushed out by growth of a new anagen hair,” says Dr Hughes.
When you are pregnant, rising estrogen levels, as well as the increase in blood volume and circulation, can slow down the natural cycle of hair shedding – which is why pregnant women often enjoy thicker hair throughout their pregnancies.
Then once you give birth, your estrogen levels fall back down to normal, allowing your hair to fall out and return to the normal cycle. This often results in an excessive shedding of hair – also called a Telogen Effluvium – which can be distressing, but it’s really just your hair losing the previous nine months’ worth of normal hair shedding all at once.
It’s a temporary process that usually starts between one and three months after delivery, peaking at four months, and you should generally be back in to your normal hair growth and rest cycle by about one year post delivery.
It can happen post-baby or while you are still pregnant
Although the general perception is that pregnancy means you'll be sporting lusciously thick locks, this is not always the case. Hormones can interact differently in different people, and also in different pregnancies, so some women may actually experience a Telogen Effluvium while they are still pregnant. This is due to the shock of the first trimester’s impact on the body as it shifts the balance of hormones to support the growing baby and often you won't notice it straight away, but three or four months down the line. This, also, is generally a temporary process and doesn’t usually last more than six months.
How can you tell if your hair loss is related to pregnancy and childbirth and is not something permanent?
“Permanent hair loss is often very gradual and so less noticeable, while pregnancy related hair fall can happen quite suddenly and dramatically,” says Kathryn Jones. “However, hair fall in pregnancy will often resolve fully after elevated levels of hormones have gone back to normal. This may take some time and can be many months after giving birth as hormone levels can stay elevated, especially when breastfeeding.
It’s important to note that, even if the hair fall seems quite extreme (which it may seem to be, especially for those who experienced very thick hair during pregnancy or who have long hair), in most cases it is completely normal and temporary and will go back to normal on its own.
However, for some women postpartum hair loss can be more troubling. ‘Sometimes the hair loss continues, or you find that your hair is thinner than before the pregnancy,” says Lars Skjoth, founder of Scandinavian hair loss treatment centre Harklinikken. “Texture and quality changes are also not uncommon. Hair loss issues in connection with childbirth can be worsened by a stressful pregnancy, a difficult delivery, or by adjusting to the huge changes that come with a new baby. Nutrient deficiencies, lack of sleep, and stress are normal experiences for new mothers, but for some it increases the possibility of hair loss.’
There can also be other medical reasons for hair loss in pregnancy such as thyroid issues so if you are worried that your hair fall is unusually excessive or if you have other symptoms then you should visit your doctor or dermatologist, adds Kathryn Jones. Make sure that any treatment or supplement you use for your hair loss is safe for use in pregnancy if you are still pregnant and for breastfeeding if you are nursing your baby.
5 Ways to treat postpartum hair fall
1. Give your hair a break
The best way to treat pregnancy or postpartum-related hair fall is to limit the washing of hair to two to three times per week if possible, says Kathryn Jones: “Use very mild and natural products and avoid any harsh treatments such as dying, regular blow drying, straightening etc. Allow hair to dry naturally after washing as often as you can and regularly massage the scalp gently using a high quality natural hair oil that contains lots of antioxidant ingredients. This will stimulate hair growth and keep the scalp in really good condition.”
2. Eat well
Make sure you are getting all of the nutrients your body needs to sustain you and your baby by eating healthily and staying hydrated, says Kathryn Jones. “This will help to minimise hair fall and mitigate the effects of pregnancy hormones.”
A healthy diet should focus on non-processed foods, ensuring that you combat any nutrient deficiencies and restore balance to the body’s functions, addss Lars. “There are certain foods that have more positive impacts on the body than others. If you are struggling with post-pregnancy hair loss, try adding more of these foods into your daily diet:
- Crunchy green vegetables
- Sweet potato
- Chicken, beef, or fish
3. Take your vitamins (with caution)
A varied, healthy diet is the best way to receive all the vitamins and minerals you need – however this can sometimes be hard to achieve for a busy new mum, in which case it can be helpful to take vitamins as a supplement for any vitamin deficiency you might have. Iron deficiency in particular has been associated with hair loss. While many people tout Biotin (a combination of B vitamins) as good for preventing hair loss, there is limited evidence that it actually works. It is also often recommended that you continue to take your prenatal vitamins even after you have given birth, especially if you are breastfeeding. However, it is important to note that vitamin supplementation is only of benefit if you have a deficiency in said vitamin, and it is possible to overload on vitamins (including iron) to the point of toxicity. If you feel your hair fall may be related to a vitamin deficiency and especially if you are experiencing any other symptoms then book a visit to your doctor so that they can test your levels.
4. Use the right products
If you are self-conscious about your hair loss then you can use styling products to help disguise it (although in all likelihood it is only noticeable to you anyway). In many cases it may be better to avoid heavy hair masks or deep conditioners as these can weigh the hair down and make it look limp. Opting instead for volumising products can give your hair body so that it looks more voluminous. Kathryn Jones creates a natural oil-based serum designed to revive the scalp, promote hair growth and reduce hair fall called Hair Karma, while Hairlinikken is a UAE-based hair clinic that creates bespoke treatments that are tailored to your body and hair’s specific needs.
5. Don’t stress
Above all, don’t let your hair fall be something you stress about – new mothers have more than enough on their plates already. It can be extremely dispiriting to see clups of hair falling out in your har brush or while in the shower, but you’re just experiencing something that the majority of other mums have done too. “Most importantly, try not to worry excessively as most mums will have 100% regrowth of their hair within around six months of giving birth.”