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We Answered The Top Qs About Postpartum Hair Shedding

The Experts

12 Min Read

By Dr. Kali Olsen, ND2021-06-17

Medically Reviewed by

DR. TESS MARSHALL, N ND

The pregnancy hair boost is real. Research shows that the hair shaft of a woman’s hair during pregnancy increases in diameter thanks to the increase in estrogen and progesterone. 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 thinning. 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 thinning is the phenomenon of generalized, more-than-usual hair loss occurring on average 3 months or even a year after pregnancy.

Why does postpartum hair loss happen?

Just like all the other changes we attribute to pregnancy, when it comes to postpartum hair thinning, 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 thinning 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?

While it’s emotionally distressing to lose more hair than usual, most people who experience hair thinning from a stressful event -- yes, having a baby is considered a stressor by your body! -- can recover. With a little patience, hair grows back 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 or thickness it once had. 

Does breastfeeding affect postpartum hair thinning?

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 thinning be?

While postpartum hair thinning is commonly a self-limited issue requiring nothing more than time and patience, for some women, this period of increased shedding 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 thinning truly is. It’s been suggested that the true underlying issue may be a missed indicator of androgen-sensitive thinning. Cases of hormonal related hair thinning 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 shedding suddenly become more apparent after pregnancy? 

With androgen-sensitive hair thinning, an individual’s hair growth cycle is shorter than typical, meaning their hair is quicker to switch from the growth to resting phase in addition to a process called miniaturization, where the hair follicle becomes smaller and smaller. 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 thinning 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. This 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 hormonal-related hair thinning, it’s a good idea to talk to your dermatologist about a postpartum plan of action. Your best support strategy may be different from others experiencing postpartum hair thinning.

Can postpartum hair thinning be prevented?

While the area of postpartum hair thinning is sadly under researched and often underreported by women experiencing it, there are ways to support recovery through this transition for better hair growth. 

One option is to consider adding a supplement to your routine. Nutrafol Postpartum was developed with an OBGYN using whole-food-sourced ingredients traditionally used for lactation to target root causes of postpartum thinning hair. The blend of clinically-tested ingredients were chosen to help support recovery from nutrient depletion and the physical and emotional stress that can lead to thinning hair in postpartum women. 

Prenatal and postnatal supplements tend not to account for the increased nutrient needs women have during the unique period after pregnancy and childbirth. Nutrafol Postpartum was formulated to fill the nutritional gaps between prenatal and postnatal needs and to deliver added nutrition specifically for postpartum hair growth support. Unlike other options on the market, Nutrafol Postpartum is breastfeeding-friendly, compatible with most prenatals and multivitamins and can be taken immediately after birth to support whole-body and hair health recovery. 

Lifestyle-centric stress support strategies like speaking regularly with a support group or therapist, or physical exercise such as yoga or meditation can also be helpful in managing the body’s stress response during this time, which is one of the critical root causes contributing to poor hair growth during this life stage. 

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