Postpartum Hair Loss: Why It Happens and How To Cope

For all the negative physical effects of pregnancy, from weight gain and joint pain to morning sickness and constipation, there were certainly a few positives — my hair and nails had never felt healthier! But the side effects of pregnancy don’t stop once your precious baby has arrived. Just as you’re emerging from the fourth trimester and the newborn haze, those luscious locks you may have grown during pregnancy have seen their better days, and it feels like all your hair has started to fall out! I remember when I began to notice my own postpartum hair loss after pregnancy — suddenly, I was finding strands of my hair everywhere, and I also noticed hair thinning on my scalp.

Many women experience postpartum hair loss after giving birth to their children. This can be an alarming and distressing experience when you already may not feel your most confident. Knowing what to expect from postpartum hair loss — from its causes to its timeline and treatments — can help you navigate this temporary experience with calmness.

Some amount of daily hair loss, between 50 and 100 strands per day, is considered normal.1 You’re probably used to finding a few stray strands in your hairbrush, in your shower drain, throughout your home, and on your clothing. Our bodies naturally and constantly shed old hair and grow new hair, which isn’t a sign of alopecia, or hair loss.1

Postpartum hair loss, also called postpartum alopecia, is a much more substantial, noticeable, and acute loss of hair in the months following childbirth.1 It’s a common, though temporary, phenomenon in which postpartum women experience excessive hair shedding.2 The severity and timing of hair loss after pregnancy can vary from woman to woman, but over 90% of women experience postpartum hair loss in some capacity.3

Many women (myself included!) feel that their hair looks extra voluminous during pregnancy. This may be because hormones surge, and you generally take good care of yourself and your nutrition (or at least take a prenatal vitamin) while pregnant.3 But the same reasons women have “good hair” during pregnancy may be the reasons that hair falls out in the postpartum period:

Experts believe the main cause is drastic and rapid hormonal changes after giving birth. During pregnancy, our estrogen levels peak to maintain a healthy pregnancy, which also boosts the growth phase of our hair follicles. Hair grows quickly, and very little of it falls out during pregnancy. Then, when estrogen levels plummet after giving birth, all the follicles that were in the growth phase prematurely enter the shedding phase.2,3

Breastfeeding affects hormone levels. Your baby suckling at the breast often suppresses estrogen, which remains low until breastfeeding becomes less frequent. As mentioned above, high estrogen promotes hair growth, and low estrogen may worsen hair loss. For this reason, it’s speculated that long-term breastfeeding may intensify postpartum hair loss.3

Pregnancy and breastfeeding put a mother at risk for specific nutrient deficiencies, particularly iron and zinc. These deficits can contribute to hair loss through their impact on the human hair follicle. Supplementing with iron in those with an iron deficiency and anemia has demonstrated a positive impact on hair growth.4

In addition to causing a sudden drop in estrogen, childbirth is an acutely stressful physical experience. Becoming a new mom and caring for a newborn can also be very stressful. Significant stress levels can have a similar effect to plummeting estrogen, pushing hair follicles into the shedding phase. These loose hairs are easily dislodged from the scalp when brushed, washed, or touched.5

Although postpartum hormones tank rapidly after birth, you may not notice increased hair loss for a few months. Hair stops growing fairly quickly after estrogen drops, but it may remain in place on your scalp for a few months until a new hair that’s grown in its place pushes it out.6 In one study, the average start of postpartum hair loss occurred just before three months postpartum. Hair loss peaked around five months and stopped by eight months.3

Postpartum hair loss varies from one woman to the next, but it may last between six and 12 months total from start to finish. It starts and ends gradually, and you will ultimately stop noticing increased shedding.3

Although there isn’t much you can do to prevent hair loss after pregnancy, there are some treatments that can prevent excessive postpartum hair loss and encourage hair regrowth:

One of the most important postpartum hair loss treatments you can try is focusing on nutrition. The cells that make up your hair follicles have a high turnover rate, making them particularly susceptible to nutritional deficiencies. It’s essential to maintain a balanced diet and supplement with vitamins when needed during your postpartum recovery to minimize postpartum hair loss. Be sure you’re consuming adequate calories, protein, and sufficient vitamins and minerals, including zinc, iron, and biotin.7

While you may not be able to stop the process of hair follicles “shutting off” in your postpartum period, you can take measures to not cause additional hair loss. When washing and styling hair, do so gently. Avoid overly tight or tense hairstyles, and minimize heat styling to prevent further hair damage.8

Massaging your scalp can bring additional blood flow to the area and encourage hair follicle growth. This treatment may promote more and thicker hair growth for those experiencing postpartum hair loss.9 You can massage your scalp while washing your hair in the shower or buy or make a serum containing peppermint oil. Peppermint oil deepens and proliferates hair follicles and puts them into the growth phase.10

Postpartum can be a stressful and overwhelming time. You love your new baby but are adjusting to a whole new life, all on little sleep. Do what you can to minimize stress during this time by accepting help and giving yourself permission to relax. Not only can this help your mental health, but it can also help reduce postpartum hair loss worsened by stress.5

Woman showing hair loss

Hair almost always grows back after it falls out postpartum.8 Once hair stops falling out at around eight months postpartum, new hair will grow in to replace it.3 However, keep in mind that the new hairs will be starting from scratch. It may take an additional six to nine months to notice the new hairs “catching up” in length to the rest of the hairs on your head.11

Hair loss after pregnancy happens largely because of hormone fluctuations postpartum, which you can’t avoid.3 Therefore, it’s impossible to completely prevent. However, you can maintain a healthy lifestyle and diet, treat your hair gently, manage stress levels, and consider scalp massage to encourage regrowth. Your hair will grow back before you know it!8

Postpartum hair loss can feel difficult during a time already ripe with change and self-consciousness. Rest assured that it’s common and temporary. Knowing what to expect from this hair loss and how to manage it can help ease your anxiety about this experience. Focus on self-care and building your confidence during this time, knowing that your thinner scalp and constant shedding won’t last forever!


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