The pregnancy hair boost is real. Research shows that the hair shaft of a woman’s hair during pregnancy increases in diameter. Extra bonus? More hair sticks around in the hair growth phase than usual. The combination of these two factors helps add more va-va-voom to your hair thickness.
But something else can occur following pregnancy: postpartum hair loss.
Typically, the shedding phase of our normal hair cycle means we’re losing an average of 50-150 strands of hair each day. Postpartum hair loss is the phenomenon of generalized, more-than-usual hair loss occurring months or even a year after pregnancy.
Get Hair, Health & Science News
Why does postpartum hair loss happen?
Just like all the other changes we attribute to pregnancy, when it comes to postpartum hair loss, you can point the finger at changes in hormones. During pregnancy, your body is exposed to higher levels of various hormones than usual. This surge in estrogen, progesterone, and even thyroid hormones are thought to be responsible for the exceptional hair growth spurt many women rave about.
Estrogen in particular, a hormone responsible for revving up different processes leading to growth during the normal female cycle, is credited to helping prolong the anagen or growth phase of your hair growth. After delivery, your body pulls the plug on excess estrogen production and this hormonal shift causes growth-happy hair to suddenly enter into the resting and then shedding phase of the hair cycle. This type of hair loss is referred to as “delayed anagen release.” You can think of it as pregnancy hormones increasing your hair growth “allowance,” and then, all at once, cutting your cash flow short.
Does hair grow back after postpartum thinning?
Postpartum hair loss comes with its own technical term of telogen gravidarum. But because postpartum hair loss is a result of a major body biochemistry change (events of which we can categorize as “stressful” to our innerworkings), it belongs to the family of stress-related hair loss termed telogen effluvium.
While it’s emotionally distressing to lose more hair than usual, most people who experience hair thinning from a stressful event can bounce back. With a little patience, hair regrowth can become evident after six to 15 months and often gets back to its prior growth cycle from then on. However, it is not uncommon to hear that postpartum hair never quite returned to the same quality it once had. Variations in hair shedding time are thought to depend on your individual hair cycle, with most women reaching their hair shedding peak two to three months postpartum.
Does breastfeeding affect postpartum hair loss?
According to a 2014 study, the answer is not much! While monitoring changes to the hair cycle during pregnancy and the year after birth, researchers found that, at four months postpartum, breastfeeding women had higher amounts of hair in the growth phase than women who were not breastfeeding.
However, this difference appears to be short-lived, as the average number of growth phase hairs and resting phase hairs during the first full postpartum year showed no significant difference between the two groups of women when compared. So, while an initial difference was found, the impact of breastfeeding on a new mother’s hair cycle doesn’t seem to last long.
How severe can postpartum hair loss be?
While postpartum hair loss is commonly a self-limited issue requiring nothing more than time and patience, for some women, this period of increased hair loss can be prolonged or even permanent. Why does this vary so much from woman to woman? It may have to do with other hair-related risk factors.
Some experts debate how common postpartum hair loss truly is. It’s been suggested that the true underlying issue may be a missed indicator of androgen-sensitive hair loss. Cases of androgenic hair loss can affect both men and women, despite its common referral as “male pattern baldness.” In women, it commonly presents as generalized hair thinning over the top of the head. But why would this hair loss suddenly become more apparent after pregnancy?
With androgen-sensitive hair loss, an individual’s hair growth cycle is shorter than typical, meaning their hair is quicker to switch from the growth to resting phase. But during pregnancy, some scientists believe that individuals who commonly have a shorter growth phase enjoy a temporary exemption, as their pregnancy hormones allow more hair follicles to stay in the growth phase longer. The downside? Once the hormonal changes of postpartum hit, all of these hairs are shifted out of the growth phase of the hair cycle.
Because we believe that typical postpartum hair loss happens when hair goes from an elongated growth phase to being hastily forced back into its usual shedding cycle, someone with a shorter growth cycle may have more hair loss. Which means that more hair than typical would suddenly be forced into the resting and then shedding phases at once.
If you have a family history of androgen-sensitive hair loss, it’s a good idea to talk to your dermatologist about a postpartum plan of action. Your best support strategy may be different than others experiencing postpartum hair loss.
Can postpartum hair loss be prevented?
While the area of telogen gravidarum (aka postpartum hair loss) is sadly under-researched, various treatment ideas have been devised and some encouraging theories around stress and hormones are being explored.
As your internal stress response is so important when contemplating other telogen effluvium treatment strategies, it may be helpful to consider general stress support. A primate study found that subjects who experienced greater hair loss after pregnancy also had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol when tested. While studies on people are always the most helpful, we may be able to glean valuable information from the study’s conclusion: that greater hair loss after birth may be a sign of greater physiological stress suffered during or after pregnancy. This supports the idea that new mothers may benefit from greater stress support when it comes to preventing postpartum hair loss.
Lifestyle-centric stress support strategies vary from counseling to physical exercise like yoga or meditation. Another option is looking into natural stress support supplements like adaptogens, such as ashwagandha and rhodiola, which have been shown to help decrease reported signs of anxiety and increase markers of improved “stress resistance.” Keep in mind that pregnant or nursing women should avoid taking herbal remedies while breastfeeding and consult a physician before making changes to their supplement routine.
A number of other postpartum hair loss strategies are aimed at balancing the underlying hormonal upset believed to be behind the issue. These options can include topical hormonal prescriptions, such as estrogen or progesterone creams, and supplementation aimed at supporting thyroid function. One of the more stress-sensitive organs in the body, the thyroid is a key player in influencing our hair growth cycle.
If you and your doctor agree that androgen-sensitive hair loss may be at the root of your issue, natural DHT inhibitors may help support your hair follicle from excessive influence of the androgen DHT, a form of testosterone blamed for follicle miniaturization and male and female pattern baldness.