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Postpartum Hair Loss: “When did my stylist give me bangs?”

The other day I was talking to a friend when suddenly, just like Jennifer Lopez, a luxurious lock of hair that was fabulously cut to cheek length fell across my face.  And of course, I – again like J. Lo – swept it away deftly and gracefully and kept talking.  And then I realized that I don’t have bangs and haven’t had them since I was about 6 years old.  This realization prompted me to flash back to the months right after Mr. Muscles was born a little less than 2 years ago when I would look in the mirror and see little sproutlets of hair standing straight up all around my hairline like the awkard feathers of a silkie chicken.  My luxurious movie star bangs are just the remnants of the hair shed during the postpartum days, those magical days when your body hurts, you feel like a milk cow, you’re exhausted, and you still look pregnant enough for people at the grocery store to ask how far along you are even when you’re holding your newborn.  And oh yeah, your hair falls out.  Any man reading this post – single or married – should make a mental note at this time to be absolutely certain to tell ANY woman in their life who just had a baby how beautiful and wonderful they look, while also remembering to never ask them why their hair looks like that and never ever offering to buy them hair gel as a gift to keep their weird hair spikes down as my wonderful, loving husband did (he is in fact wonderful and loving and luckily he made this comment when our son was about 6 months old and I was far enough past the post-partum months to think it was funny).

But enough about that!  Let’s talk about why postpartum hair loss happens and how to keep it as under control as possible:

  • In a non-pregnant woman, about 90% of hair is in a growing phase and 10% is in a resting stage.  The resting stage hair is what tends to fall out with brushing and every day activity.
  • During pregnancy, estrogen levels get very high.  Estrogen is the hormone that (among other things) encourages cell growth, so it makes sense that high estrogen levels would encourage more hair to stay in the growing phase and discourage hair from falling out.
  • After baby is born and breastfeeding begins, estrogen and progesterone levels fall as prolactin levels rise.  This abrupt change in hormones is what makes some women susceptible to postpartum depression and it is what is responsible for the bulk of hair loss after pregnancy.  It’s not so much that MORE hair is falling out, it’s that all the hair that was delayed from falling out when estrogen and progesterone levels were high starts to wake up and realize it’s time to fall out.  And most unkindly of all, they decide to all fall out together in those months after baby is born.
  • Other factors contributing to postpartum hair loss include stress (but new moms are never stressed so ignore that one), low iron levels (check with your midwife or doctor to see if you need to take iron after the birth), insufficient protein intake, insufficient vitamin and mineral intake, and hair being pulled too tightly by hair clips and/or baby.
  • To help keep hormones in balance during the fantastic transition after birth, I highly recommend drinking red raspberry leaf tea up to and after the birth.  I actually kept drinking it all through the nursing phase and now that I’m pregnant again it’s another regular part of my tea rotation.  At the rate I’m going, I will probably be drinking red raspberry leaf tea for the next ten years and beyond!
  • Nutritionally, it’s also really important to take iron if your healthcare provider recommends it.  This would usually be the case if you were anemic during pregnancy or you had a lot of bleeding during or after the birth.  You can also include iron-rich foods such as grassfed beef and blackstrap molasses in your diet.
  • Since low protein levels contribute to hair loss in everyone (not just pregnant women), it’s important to make sure that new moms get adequate protein in the postpartum months.  Since it’s not always easy to sit down and eat 3 square meals a day with a newborn, I encourage moms to keep protein-rich and easy-to-eat snacks handy, such as nitrate-free cold cuts, yogurt or cheese from grassfed cows, hummus or other bean dips (if your baby is ok with beans), nut butters, deviled or hard boiled eggs, smoked salmon, and protein bars made with whey or rice rather than soy.  If you have friends or family nearby that can help with cooking, enlist their help in keeping your fridge stocked with protein-rich meals and snacks.  In addition to preventing hair loss, eating protein in the postpartum months helps to prevent postpartum depression and accelerates the rate at which you’ll be able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans!
  • I also usually recommend that nursing mothers take a double dose of their prenatal vitamin for the months following birth, since it’s such a time of transition.  Depending on the vitamin you’re taking, you may want to double check this with your healthcare practitioner.
  • Another thing that is obvious to some people but not to others (like myself) is that you want to avoid pulling on your hair in the same spot.  When Mr. Muscles was born, I had my hair back in a bun or pony tail most of the time pulled straight back from my face which is probably why most of my postpartum hair loss happened around my forehead hair line.  Most women lose hair from the front and sides of their hair rather than the back, so this is normal, but looking back I could have varied the natural part of my hair and tried braiding it into pigtails once in a while to reduce the weight of my hair always pulling on the same spot.
  • If you feel your hair loss is extreme and you see visible bald spots after having a baby, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife about it.  They can run tests to see if your thyroid needs support or if there is another underlying imbalance that needs to be addressed.

Above all, if you’re experiencing postpartum hair loss, try to remember that it’s a normal thing that will eventually stop.  And in a couple of years you may be lucky enough to have surprise movie star bangs without having to pay your stylist!

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1 Michelle { 06.06.13 at 6:37 pm }

Question: How long can postpartum hair loss last for? My daughter is 17 months old and Im still losing hair like crazy. Starting to see my scalp in the very front of my hair. Ironically, Ive worn my hair in pony tails and buns for years too, so Im sure that hasn’t helped much! Just concerned that its been this long and its still happening.

2 Jessica Stamm { 06.19.13 at 11:26 am }

Hi Michelle! Postpartum hair loss usually stops around 6 to 9 months after baby is born, but can last longer in some cases. If you are concerned you might want to ask your doctor for a blood work-up. Other factors that can affect hair loss after having a baby are low iron levels, protein intake (reflected in blood albumin levels), and thyroid function. All of these can be checked with simple lab tests that are almost always covered by insurance. Take care!

3 Brian { 08.13.13 at 4:25 am }

Thank you for the write-up this is very very helpful. using your hints and tips you might have prompted me personally to get started on producing Many thanks!

4 Erin { 10.08.14 at 1:36 am }

I went yhroug8

I have a 18 month old that I went through severe pp hair loss with and it still has not completely recovered. I’m due with my 3rd child in November and scared to death of shedding again. I just wanted to maybe correct you on progesterone. It is my understanding that progesterone also plummets after birth and the hormone prolactin rises during breastfeeding. Progesterone counteracts prolactin so I don’t think it would be high during bfing. I have read that taking progesterone cream at around 4weeks pp and on can help eliminate the shed. You have to wait till then so your milk supply is established. I have also read that the major contributor to hair loss after birth is that progesterone plummets because progesterone helps fight DHT which when your cycle returns DHT rises and progesterone helps to combat it from attacking your follicles. And apparently when your cycle returns is when most women notice the hair loss beginning. During the pregnancy, the placenta supplies all the hormones and you have nothing to backfire against the DHT when your cycles return because your ovaries have laid dormant for so long. I’m not a doctor but I’ve researched this till I’m blue in the face. I’m so terrified to go through it again. Although, I don’t think I will be as stressed and not eating properly this go around. I had all the contributing factors you mentioned. I’m going to be as proactive as possible because if I shed bad again, I will be wearing a wig (cry). Can you let us know how your pp shed was after the next baby?
Thanks for the post!!!

5 Jessica Stamm { 10.15.14 at 12:49 pm }

Thank you so much for catching that typo Erin! I have corrected it in the original post because you are absolutely right – progesterone and estrogen fall after birth while prolactin rises. I got my pro’s mixed up… The second time around my post-partum shed was pretty bad because of low iron levels (I have a tendency toward low iron from being a vegetarian for many years and also recently from being pregnant/breastfeeding for basically the past five years) so I had to work pretty hard to fix that! The hardest thing honestly was remembering to take my iron supplement, which had to be taken with food, and with two young boys and running my business it was hard enough to remember to eat regularly let alone take iron. And I’m a nutritionist!!! So hopefully that helps all the other busy moms out there not feel so bad about forgetting to take supplements.

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