Going, Going, Gone: Hair Loss in the Postpartum Period

Staring at the mirror in the postpartum period can be rough: black circles under your eyes, stretch marks on your thighs, and a belly that looks like it is still carrying a baby. And if that’s not enough to make you feel really awesome, a couple of months after delivery you begin to notice that the drain of your shower is clogged with hair. Bald spots on your forehead abound, and you begin to wonder what in the world is going on. How can those luscious locks go from plentiful to pitiful in just a couple of short months? Are you losing your hair along with your mind from lack of sleep? No, not really. While you might be losing your mind from lack of sleep, you are losing your hair from a massive change in the hair cycle.

Yes, hair has a cycle. It grows in phases and in stages; anagen, catagen, and telogen. And unlike other stages or cycles, when it comes to hair all three occur on one noggin simultaneously. So while the majority of hair (about 85%) on one’s head is in the anagen phase, one hair strand can be resting in telogen while another can be growing in anagen. You still with us? In addition to the various stages, the hair cycle is actually fairly lengthy, with a growth of about  .5 inches/month. This might give you pause before chopping it all off! While the length of time a hair spends in anagen is largely determined by genetics, in general, the longer hair is in anagen, the longer it will grow.

During pregnancy, there is a substantial increase in the growth or anagen phase relative to the resting or telogen phase; this translates into that Pantene commercial-like hair that you see while carrying your plus one. It flows, it glows, and it really never looked so good. A common misconception is that this unprecedented growth is the result of prenatal vitamins. And while prenatal vitamins are good for you and for your baby, they are not the reason behind that magnificent mane. High levels of estrogen prolong the anagen or growth phase. So rather than having 85% of your hair in growth and the rest in transition or rest, you may have 90-plus percent in growth while you are growing your little one. This translates into some luscious locks while pregnant! Side note…extra hair growth does not only occur on your head. It will also be seen in some of your not-so-favorite places (a.k.a. bikini line, armpits, legs, and lips). Bottom line, you may become quite friendly with your local beauty salon.

Postpartum, the ratio is reversed, and about one to five months after delivery, telogen takes the lead. With “T” in the lead, months of hair loss follow (UGH!). And in contrast to the normal loss that occurs daily when not pregnant (take a look at your brush…we all lose about 50–100 strands on a normal day), post-partum hair loss can last for up to 15 months.

Breastfeeding will worsen the situation and promote continued hair loss (what else will this kid take from me?). Continuing to take vitamins, maintaining healthy habits, drinking lots of water, and getting as much sleep as possible (yes, we get that the last one is impossible!) can help get things back on track. Additionally, modifying your hair regimens and treatments may also have a positive impact on your ponytail. So while you may have been dreaming about going back to your Keratin treatment, it is best to talk to your GYN and your hair stylist; they will likely have some good tips on how to treat your tresses.

The postpartum period is often dominated by creativity. And while we don’t mean drawing and designing, we do mean thinking of ways to do things with one hand, one minute of freedom, and what may feel like one functioning brain cell. Coming up with novel hairstyles and clothing options also require creativity. Given the hair loss, you may need to employ bandanas and sweatbands to cover your hairline. But despite these short-lived innovative styles, your hair will come back. It may not be exactly the same (unfortunately, almost nothing really is, post-baby), but you will be able to brush without going bald—we promise!