What to Know About Postpartum Hair Loss

Mom holding baby


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Picture this: You're three months postpartum and finally starting to feel a little bit like "yourself" again. You've been cleared to workout, and your baby is (hopefully) sleeping for a longer stretch at night. Just as you settle onto your mat for your yoga workout, you notice your hair is starting to shed. There is hair...everywhere.

With all of the physical and emotional changes that happen when you’re pregnant and postpartum, hair loss can be one of the most inconvenient and annoying. Despite probably having some knowledge that new parents do lose hair after giving birth, the process can still feel unexpected and overwhelming. At the very least, it can be challenging, even if it doesn't bother you that much.

Postpartum hair loss is incredibly common, and it's important to note that it's not a permanent condition. Below, read why hair loss happens and get expert advice on how to slow hair shedding. Plus, find out when you can expect postpartum hair loss to curb and the best products to use in the meantime.

What Happens to Your Hair During Pregnancy

While pregnant, hair sheds more slowly than normal. This can result in fuller and thicker-looking hair since you're just not losing as much each week. “When you are pregnant, you are in a privileged hormonal state," says Dr. Yates, MD, FACS, a Chicago-based board-certified hair loss surgeon. "In your third trimester, your estrogen levels are six times higher than normal. Both estrogen and progesterone (which also increases during pregnancy) support hair growth and decrease shedding by keeping the hair in a constant anagen (growth) phase. This explains why your hair looks the most radiant at the time of delivery.”

In addition to the increase of hormones while pregnant, overall lifestyle changes can contribute to a fuller-looking head of hair. “Most patients experience better hair while pregnant probably due to prenatal vitamins and better nutrition overall as well as a healthier lifestyle,” says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. 

A normal, healthy scalp loses between 50 and 100 hairs per day. One study showed that a normal head of hair is usually 85 percent actively growing, and 15 percent in the resting phase. After a stressful event, like giving birth, the resting phase percentage can increase to 70 percent.

The Shift from Pregnancy to Postpartum

When someone is postpartum, their normal hair shedding cycle resumes. This often makes people feel like they are losing more hair than normal, but sometimes this is just because less hair falls out when you are pregnant.

“Normal hair sheds 50-100 hairs per day, regularly,” says Luis Pacheco, master hair expert, colorist, and founder of wellness-based beauty and lifestyle brand TO112. “It's called the exogen phase, or resting phase, of the hair follicle. This is when it stops growing and rests between growth cycles and sheds the hair shaft to make way for new growth.”

Once hormone levels dip after giving birth, the body lets go of the hair, resulting in shedding. “Hair loss that occurs in the postpartum period is known as telogen effluvium,” notes Dr. Mariwalla. She explains that this type of hair loss has nothing to do with pregnancy itself, but rather, is caused by the stress of delivering a baby.

“This type of hair loss occurs after any kind of stressor including illnesses, general anesthesia, and even a happy occasion like the birth of a child,” she adds.

Telogen Effluvium is when a stressful event, like childbirth, forces hair into the "resting state." This basically means hair will not grow, and a symptom of this condition is hair loss. This is a reversible condition.

What Causes Postpartum Hair Loss and When Does It Start

Hair will most commonly begin to shed about three months postpartum. “After birth, hair is usually stable and then the telogen effluvium or intense hair shedding starts around three to four months postpartum,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “Unfortunately, that often coincides with poor sleep and overall exhaustion from having a new baby in the house.”

This combination can make hair loss an emotional event. It can sometimes make new parents feel vulnerable and uneasy. Dr. Mariwalla tells her patients to remain calm during this time. “The key thing is reassurance that they will not go bald but it can take almost a year for all of the hair to grow back,” says Dr. Mariwalla.

Unfortunately, there are still questions as to why hair loss happens, aside from the hormone fluctuations new parents experience. What we do know is that hair loss is a very real side effect.

“Postpartum telogen effluvium remains understudied and is lacking hard data to prove any theory [of why it happens],” says Bridgette Hill, founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis, and a certified trichologist. “The theories range from increased levels of progesterone and increased iron intake to nutritional deficiencies."

Breastfeeding is also a factor for hair loss, since it can be quite taxing on the body. "Breastfeeding can also impact the hormonal and nutritional balances, which can result in hair shedding,” Hill notes.

Dr. Yates explains that within 24 hours of a baby being delivered, estrogen and progesterone decrease sharply in the new parent. “Estrogen decreases even more with breastfeeding because excess estrogen can interfere with milk production,” says Dr. Yates.

How To Cope With Postpartum Hair Loss

If you feel discouraged by hair loss, he says to keep in mind that this is a temporary phase. According to the doctor, most shedding will resolve about three months after it starts. Knowing when this shedding will likely subside can help prepare you mentally and emotionally for this change.

Remember, postpartum hair loss occurs because you have just given birth to a baby. Try to focus on the bigger picture and have a long-term view.

“Don't get down on yourself,” says Pacheco. “Your body just did a fantastic thing, and it took a lot of work. Postpartum hair loss happens to every new mom to varying degrees. My best advice is to focus on regrowth because once it starts to fall out, it needs to run its course.”

Since this fallout has nothing to do with your hair health or hair shaft, it cannot be stopped once it starts. However, there are ways to mitigate the loss.

“Stress hormones can also lead to hair loss,” says Pacheco. “So try not to panic—the follicles aren't dying off into baldness; they are just resetting and letting go of old growth. Your hair will come back. Often stronger and fuller than before, and maybe with a new texture or wave than you had before.”

How to Manage Postpartum Hair Loss

It’s best to try to limit scalp irritation and inflammation during this time. Try to avoid ingredients like sulfates, parabens, and other harsh chemicals found in shampoos and styling products. “They can cause inflammation at the scalp, leading to excess hair loss and weakened new growth,” says Pacheco. “Use vitamin and protein-rich shampoos, conditioners, and masks. Look for ingredients like keratin and collagen to help fortify the hair.”

Dr. Yates has a Daily Thickening Shampoo that helps with fine and thinning hair. It is a volumizing cleanser containing pumpkin seed oil, yucca root extract, and biotin. “It’s formulated to thicken each hair strand and gently cleanse the scalp by removing residue and DHT build-up. The result is healthier, fuller-looking hair,” says Dr. Yates.

Caffeine is another great ingredient to stimulate blood flow. It's commonly used in skin care and hair care for its antioxidant properties. You can also stimulate blood flow by manually massaging your scalp daily. This can be done manually, simply by moving your fingers around your head in the shower. You could also use a tool like the Briogeo Scalp Revival Stimulating Therapy Massager.

Vitamins that contain biotin, zinc, and iron can also help with hair regrowth. “I highly recommend using some postpartum vitamins and scalp treatments like René Furterer Triphasic Reactional Concentrated Serum, which is specifically for this type of hair loss,” says Cédric, stylist and owner of Cédric Salon at The Lotte New York Palace Hotel in New York.

Cédric recommends using silk scrunchies instead of harsh elastics, a microfiber towel (we like the Aquis Hair Towels), and avoiding hot tools as much as possible to prevent any further breakage or damage on your already delicate hair.

Additional Tips For Healthy Hair

Once or twice a week, try a leave-in serum to help boost hair production and scalp circulation. The PHYTO Phytocyane Revitalizing Scalp Serum for Temporary Hair Loss is a drug-free, hormone-free formula that has amino acids, B vitamins, and silk proteins to encourage follicle stimulation.

If you don't use any special shampoos or take vitamins, pay attention to something you probably use daily: your hair brush. “One that isn’t gentle enough can inflame the scalp and cause hair breakage,” says Hill. “Choose a boar bristle brush or one that has a mix of plastic and boar’s hair bristles. There are also some good rubber brushes on the market. The idea is to stay away from metal brushes, which can be abrasive to hair fiber and scalps.”

In addition to your brush, pay attention to your style. “It is important to refrain from too-tight ponytails, braids, and cornrows, which can put excess tension on the hair fiber,” and can lead to breakage, adds Hill.

A Word From Verywell

Pacheco says that postpartum hair loss is a hot topic in his salon chair, and one that many women experience. “No one stays calm when holding large hairballs in the shower," says Pacheco. "So, hearing that it's happening to the woman next to them helps.”

Because hair loss typically coincides with the peak of sleeplessness and exhaustion can make it even more alarming. “Moms are exhausted,” Pacheco says. “They're working really hard and often putting themselves last. It's not an easy time—and then your hair starts falling out. Hearing they're not alone and that it's normal and won't last forever seems to help give them an emotional boost.”

For some women, hair loss can be minor, or not noticeable at all if you had a full head of hair to begin with. For others, a little hair loss pales in comparison to the experience of labor and delivery. What's most important to remember if you are experiencing hair loss—whether it's just annoying or it's traumatizing—is that it's temporary. It's also happening because you welcomed your precious new baby into the world, and that has to count for something.

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6 Sources
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