Postpartum Hair Loss: Everything You Need to Know About Losing Hair After Pregnancy

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I remember the first time I noticed my postpartum hair loss. I was two and a half months into motherhood and recovering from both a C-section and an emergency appendectomy. Sleep-deprived and craving some R&R, I decided to give myself a facial. As I slicked my hair — still thick and shiny from pregnancy — into a topknot, I stared in shock when I saw how much my hairline had receded.

Convinced I was experiencing some kind of insomnia-induced delirium, I pulled out my camera and took a picture. This not only confirmed my fears but also revealed more thinning, as well as a bunch of tiny little hairs that were poking straight out of my head. I posted the photo on Instagram and started hearing from dozens of other women who had also lost their hair after giving birth.

Postpartum hair loss (the loss of significantly more than the average 100 hairs per day) is extremely common. A study investigating postpartum hair loss found that 68.4% of the participants experienced it to some degree. But the realization that this was happening to me — and that it could go on for months — left me feeling demoralized.

“For many women, hair is a large part of their identity,” says Aaron Chen, DO, a board-certified dermatologist at Skincare by Amy Peterson Clinic in Miami Beach. “Losing it can have a real impact on self-esteem at any time, but it can be especially difficult for new mothers who are experiencing dramatic hormonal shifts while sleep-deprived and healing from giving birth.”

So, what exactly is postpartum hair loss, and what — if anything — can be done to address it? Ahead, six specialists weigh in with their best tips.

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What causes postpartum hair loss?

According to Dr. Chen, understanding postpartum hair loss (a.k.a. telogen effluvium) starts with knowing more about hair’s life cycle. Normal, healthy hair growth occurs in four stages: Growth (anagen), transition (catagen), resting (telogen), and shedding (exogen). “Pregnancy can temporarily disrupt this cycle due to a boost of estrogen and progesterone — two hormones that keep hair in the resting phase longer,” Dr. Chen says, adding that this is why many women notice they have thicker, fuller hair in the last trimester of pregnancy.

After giving birth, these hormone levels drop quickly, which “along with the stress of giving birth, nutritional deficiencies, and even postpartum depression can cause the hair to shed at a rapid rate, resulting in thinner hair," he explains.

When does postpartum hair loss start?

While every pregnancy is different, experts say postpartum shedding usually begins two to three months after giving birth, often peaking around the fifth-month mark and stopping by month six. Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, reminds us that everyone is unique and some people might experience the shedding for longer. “It can help to see a dermatologist, who can evaluate if any other factors may be contributing,” she says, adding that “bloodwork [can be] performed to evaluate for other medical conditions, nutritional deficiencies, thyroid disorders, and hormonal factors that may be contributing to hair loss.”

What does postpartum hair loss look like?

Just as with pregnancy, the severity of postpartum hair loss can vary from person to person. Elaine F. Kung, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Future Bright Dermatology, says that while it’s common for a person who has recently given birth to notice a receding hairline, especially near the temples, there is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to knowing if, when, or how hair will respond to the sudden drop in estrogen.

Dr. Garshick adds that your hair can even start to feel different postpartum. These changes include an increase in dryness or oiliness and even changes in texture. But here’s the good news: All the experts we consulted for this article assured us that most women will see a return to their normal thickness by their child’s first birthday.

How do you know if you will have postpartum hair loss?

While there isn’t a surefire way to know whether or not you will lose an excess amount of hair after giving birth, experts say there are some factors that may put you at higher risk. “A family history of post-pregnancy hair loss, a difficult pregnancy, having twins [or any multiple birth], or having other medical conditions such as thyroid disease, anemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or autoimmune conditions may all increase a patient’s risk for postpartum hair loss,” says Dr. Kung.

While you’ll have plenty of appointments and testing during your pregnancy, hair loss isn’t something your ob-gyn will likely try to monitor or predict. “We don’t order labs to predict if a patient will lose their hair, so it’s best to see a board-certified dermatologist for an expert evaluation,” Dr. Chen says.

How do you treat postpartum hair loss?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific products to cure postpartum hair loss, but experts agree there are several ways patients can proactively address the problem. Here are their suggestions.

Pay attention to your scalp

Lucky Sekhon, MD, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist, infertility specialist, and ob-gyn at the fertility center RMA of New York, says it’s important to cleanse your scalp regularly. Dr. Garshick agrees, explaining that not doing so “can lead to buildup on the scalp and contribute to seborrheic dermatitis, which may lead to redness and inflammation.”

Devin Toth, a hairstylist at Salon SCK in New York City, adds that you should work a scalp massage into your routine, which Dr. Garshick says can have many benefits: “Scalp massages can help boost circulation, remove the buildup of dead skin and excess oil, as well as help to enhance penetration of certain products such as scalp serums, oils, foams, and shampoos.

“Circulation to the scalp is important to help promote hair growth as the hair follicles depend on nutrients from the blood, so this helps to keep the hair follicles in their growing phase,” she adds. As for how to massage your scalp, experts agree that you need a light touch: “Whether you use your fingers, a hand-held scalp massager, or a scalp exfoliator, just make sure you’re being gentle,” says Toth. “You don’t want to accidentally pull out any existing hairs.”

If you opt for a hand-held tool, Dr. Garshick suggests using the Hairstory Scalp Massager. “It’s easy to use and the silicone bristles are gentle on the scalp,” she says.

Hairstory Massaging Scalp Brush

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Style with care

To minimize the impact of postpartum hair loss, Toth says new mothers need to be extra gentle with their hair. He suggests avoiding thermal styling tools and harsh brushing. He also recommends hairstyles that can be styled loosely, like a low ponytail or low braid. “Both of these are great because they will keep your long hair away from baby's clenching fingertips that often inadvertently pull out at a new mother's hair,” he says.

Toth recommends securing them with scrunchies. “Scrunchies are less likely to accidentally pull your hair out the way an elastic or a hair bungee would,” he says. Slip Hair Scrunchies are made of silk to prevent excess tension.

Eat a balanced diet

Finding the time to cook wholesome meals for yourself might seem like a monumental task right after giving birth, but it’s important that you do your best to choose foods that not only provide energy but also nourish your recovering body, says Dr. Kung. She recommends that new mothers who might be worried about hair loss eat a balanced diet rich in protein, iron, zinc, vitamin A, biotin, and vitamin C. “Other nutrients that may be helpful include omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin E,” she says. “However, more research is needed to confirm their role in hair growth.”

Skip chemical hair treatments

Though it may be tempting to book your colorist for a new mommy makeover, experts say it’s best to stick with non-hair-related treatments at this time. “Overly processing one's hair causes the probability of breakage to increase exponentially," board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, previously told Allure.

Dr. Sekhon advises patients to avoid chemical hair treatments such as perms, relaxers, and excessive hair coloring entirely during the postpartum period. “These treatments have the potential to compromise the integrity of your hair, rendering it more susceptible to damage and breakage,” she says.

Consider getting a new haircut

We’re reluctant to encourage anyone to cut their hair while sleep-deprived and hormonal, but there’s good reason to consider a new hairstyle, says Toth. If you have curls and/or coils, he suggests layering your hair in a way that lifts and shows them off. "Single-length curls can look thin,” he says. “Layering the curls will add bounce and density. They will look like they’re full of life.”

If you have fine, straight hair, Toth says you would benefit from a one-length cut like a blunt bob or lob. Want something more? Add a disconnected bang. “The bangs can be blunt, curtain, or side-swept, depending on what complements your features and conceals any sparse areas near the hairline,” he says.

Find ways to unwind

Admittedly, finding time for self-care as a new parent can seem impossible, but it’s imperative that you look after yourself with compassion (and not just with the objective of protecting your hair). In his practice, Dr. Chen encourages stress management through planned times of relaxation, meditation, and exercise. And, if possible, “You can never go wrong with a spa day,” he says.

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Originally Appeared on Allure