hair loss

Pregnancy and childbirth trigger multiple changes in your body. One side effect that takes many women by surprise: postpartum hair loss. Here’s a look at this common condition, and what you can do about it.

Postpartum Hair Loss

Losing hair after giving birth is common and completely normal. Dermatologists sometimes refer to this condition as postpartum shedding, because the hair loss isn’t permanent. (The medical term for temporary hair loss is telogen effluvium.)

Most people shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. During the postpartum months, it can be several times that.

With postpartum shedding, the hair falls out from all over your head. It’s rare to see thinning or bald spots. Instead, you may notice an unusual amount of hair in your hairbrush, clogging the shower drain, or collecting on your pillow.

Another fact about postpartum shedding: It takes a while for it to happen. Many new moms don’t notice thinner hair until about three months after their baby is born.

The good news? Postpartum shedding is a problem that fixes itself. By the time your baby is nine to 12 months old, your hair will most likely regain its normal fullness.

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Postpartum Hair Loss Causes

The hair on your head is continually growing and shedding. This cycle has three phases:

  • Anagen phase — the active phase of growth, where the new hair shaft emerges from the follicle (a pore on your scalp). It can last for several years. Most of your hair is in this phase at any given time.
  • Catagen phase — the hair follicles shrink during this transitional phase, which can last a few weeks.
  • Telogen phase — the resting phase of the hair cycle. About 10% to 15% of the hairs on your head are in this phase at any given time. It can last up to a year, until the follicle releases the hair and it falls out.

Shifting hormone levels, both during pregnancy and afterwards, disrupt the normal cycle of hair growth and shedding.

In addition, many women experience fuller, thicker hair during pregnancy. That’s because increased estrogen levels cause more hair to enter the telogen phase. Those resting strands stay there for months, making hair fuller.

Unfortunately, that thicker head of hair is temporary.

After giving birth, a woman’s estrogen levels return to pre-pregnancy levels. That signals the hair to return to its usual cycle of growth and resting. Because more hair was in the resting phase during pregnancy, more will fall out a few months postpartum.

Losing some hair may be annoying, but you can’t prevent postpartum shedding. In most cases, it resolves with no lasting effects.

Postpartum Hair Loss Treatment

Postpartum shedding is normal and there is no medical treatment for it. By the time your baby is a year old, your hair will most likely be back to its normal thickness.

But there are some ways you can make your hair look and feel thicker in the meantime.

  • Try a new style. A fresh cut with an experienced stylist can add volume to thin hair. Shorter hairstyles can also make your hair look fuller. (Bonus: Short hair can also be a no-fuss time-saver for busy new moms).
  • Minimize heat treatments. Decreasing the amount of times you blow dry, curl, or flat iron your hair keeps it healthier and less likely to break.
  • Limit harsh chemical exposure. The use of hair straightener, color, or perms can further damage your hair.
  • Don’t overbrush your hair. Forget the old “100 brush strokes at night” advice. Brushing your hair too much can lead to more damage.
  • Don’t continually pull your hair back. Tight ponytails, braids, or cornrows can pull on your hair and lead to more hair loss.
  • Use conditioner sparingly. Skip the conditioner on your scalp (it can weigh hair down). Apply it primarily to the ends of your hair.
  • Use the right conditioner. Avoid heavy conditioners or conditioning shampoos, which can weigh hair down. Instead, opt for volumizing conditioners, or those formulated for fine hair.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Your hair is only as healthy as your body, so make sure to eat healthfully in the postpartum months. Get plenty of whole grains, lean protein, and fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s also important to stay hydrated (especially if you’re breastfeeding).

When to Call Your Doctor About Postpartum Hair Loss

Although postpartum shedding is normal, some medical conditions also cause hair loss in women. If your hair doesn’t return to its previous fullness within nine to 12 months after delivery, you should consult a dermatologist. Dermatologists specialize in treating problems with skin, hair, and nails.

Your doctor will examine your hair and scalp. They will ask you questions about your medical history, symptoms, and any medications you take. Your doctor may find another cause of shedding hair.

Other reasons you might experience temporary hair loss include:

  • Losing a lot of weight quickly (20 pounds or more in a few months).
  • Recovering from an illness, especially if you had a high fever or infection.
  • Having surgery.
  • Stopping birth control pills.
  • Going through a stressful situation (divorce, job loss, caring for an elderly loved one).
  • Side effects of some drugs and treatments (such as chemotherapy for cancer).
  • Using harsh hair care products.

If you have shedding for any of the reasons above, your hair will usually grow back once the cause is gone.

Sometimes hair loss is more permanent. This type of hair loss (medical name: anagen effluvium) has different causes. They include:

  • Genetics.
  • An immune system problem, such as lupus or Crohn’s disease.
  • Compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania).
  • Thyroid disorders.
  • Serious nutritional problems.
  • Alopecia areata.

Some forms of hair loss respond well to treatment. A doctor can tell you if they can treat your hair loss.

American Academy of Dermatology, Hair Loss in New Moms, Link

American Academy of Dermatology, Do You Have Hair Loss or Hair Shedding? Link

Harvard Health Publishing, Hair Loss, Link

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Skin Conditions During Pregnancy, Link

National Library of Medicine, Physiology, Hair, Link

About UPMC Magee-Womens

Built upon our flagship, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, and its century-plus history of providing high-quality medical care for people at all stages of life, UPMC Magee-Womens is nationally renowned for its outstanding care for women and their families.

Our Magee-Womens network – from women’s imaging centers and specialty care to outpatient and hospital-based services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania, so the help you need is always close to home. More than 25,000 babies are born at our network hospitals each year, with 10,000 of those babies born at UPMC Magee in Pittsburgh, home to one of the largest NICUs in the country. The Department of Health and Human Services recognizes Magee in Pittsburgh as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health; U.S. News & World Report ranks Magee nationally in gynecology. The Magee-Womens Research Institute was the first and is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology, with locations in Pittsburgh and Erie.