Everything you need to know about postpartum hair loss

Female hair loss can be devastating to deal with.

Written by
Rebecca Lin
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Whether you're experiencing thinning or shedding hair, balding spots or even a receding hairline, female hair loss can be devastating to deal with.

If you're a new mum, you may be noticing some hair loss in the shower drain, on your pillow or in your hair brush. And, while losing more hair than usual is considered normal in the postpartum journey, it can feel disheartening.

For some, it may be so mild that it's unnoticeable while others can experience detectable hair loss across their head. Whether you lose a little or a lot, take heart in knowing that this condition is only temporary.

We're delving into the causes and potential risks associated with postpartum hair loss. Let's dive in.

What is postpartum hair loss?

Before we delve into what postpartum hair loss is, it's important that we understand the hair growth cycle that every person goes through.

  • Anagen phase: This is the longest phase and is where your hair growth journey begins
  • Catagen phase: This typically lasts 2-3 weeks and is where the hair stops growing
  • Telogen phase: This resting phase tends to last for approximately 3 months and involves the shedding of 100-150 hair strands per day
  • Exogen phase: An extension of the previous stage where the old hair follicles shed away and the process starts again

Each hair follicle is independent and undertakes its own growth cycle at different times, otherwise alarmingly, all your hair would fall out together.

Postpartum hair loss (or postpartum alopecia) is also called telogen effluvium by dermatologists and researchers. This occurs when a disproportionate amount of hair follicles enter the telogen phase at the same time.

Telogen effluvium isn't just a postpartum condition — it can also be caused by excessive stress, nutritional deficiencies or as a side effect of certain medications.

While postpartum hair loss is normal and only a temporary situation, it can involve excessive shedding of more than the typical 5% of hair, which can be extremely distressing and knock your confidence.

The good news is, in the majority of cases, your hair will grow back just as easily as it stopped.

Why does postpartum hair loss happen?

The nature of pregnancy and giving birth means experiencing fluctuating hormone levels and the leading cause of postpartum hair loss is a change in your hormones. Good old pregnancy hormones, right?

With oestrogen levels being able to reach up to 1000 times higher than pre-pregnancy levels and progesterone levels increasing 10-18 times, this is a significant jump for your body to catch up with.

These increases keep your hair in the anagen (or growth) phase for a prolonged period of time, which means your hair will grow faster and appear much fuller, thicker and longer. But, generally within days or a week after giving birth, your hormone levels return back to close to normal.

This also brings your hair back into the normal hair growth cycle, with all the overdue hairs being accelerated into the next phase.

Postpartum hair loss is what occurs over the following months, when more hairs than usual have been moved into the telogen and exogen phase and begin to thin and shed.

When does postpartum hair loss start?

For most people, postpartum hair loss usually begins between 2-4 months after giving birth. For most new mums, hair shedding usually peaks at the 4-month mark.

There is a slight delay as your hair moves from the growth to the shedding phase and as a result, the timing of your postpartum hair falls is largely dependent on how long your catagen stage lasts.

It's important to note that the length of the catagen stage varies from person to person so it's hard to predict how long it will last but it's best to set your expectations for around 2-4 months into your postpartum journey.

How long does postpartum hair loss last?

The postpartum hair loss timeline differs for everyone. While some people can experience it for a shorter time — lasting 6-12 weeks — others may find themselves experiencing hair loss anywhere from 6 months to 1 year.

But don't worry, this doesn't mean you'll be losing hair for that whole period of time. These timeframes cover the whole recovery process as your hair follicles regain strength and texture.

If you have any concerns about how long you have been experiencing postpartum hair loss or the amount of hair you are losing, it is advised that you speak with your doctor. Plus, hair loss may not only be a byproduct of the postpartum period so your practitioner can also check if there are any underlying factors that may be affecting your hair loss.

Can I prevent postpartum hair loss from happening?

Although this condition is only temporary, there are currently no proven methods to prevent postpartum hair loss — unfortunately, it's a natural part of the postpartum process.

But, because of this, you can view this in a positive light as it's a sign that your hormone levels are returning to normal after pregnancy. There are a few aspects you can keep in mind that can help lower the likeliness of postpartum hair loss or less pronounced.

A study conducted by a postpartum health clinic deduced that women with anaemia, gestational diabetes or a history of hypothyroidism have a higher frequency of postpartum hair loss.

Along with lifestyle factors, stress, certain medications and nutritional deficiencies — notably iron or vitamin D — may also increase the chance of excessive hair shedding [2].

It may be helpful to monitor these factors as part of your normal health checks during pregnancy as they can influence your general health — not just postpartum hair loss.

Does breastfeeding cause hair loss?

Expectant mothers are constantly informed that nursing impacts hormones, so it's only natural to ask, does breastfeeding affect postpartum hair loss?

In theory, breastfeeding should make hair loss increase since oestrogen levels remain low for a prolonged time. But, many studies have found that hair loss among breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers is pretty much equal and not statistically significant [3].

All in all, every woman will have a different postpartum hair loss experience and they may vary widely regardless if they breastfeed.

Keep in mind that if you're constantly losing hair for many months or if the condition is severe, check in with your healthcare provider. Otherwise, breastfeed without fear.

What is the best way to treat postpartum hair loss?

Postpartum hair loss is only a temporary condition so there is no specific treatment. However, if the excessive hair shedding bothers you, there are some ways to help alleviate this until your hair cycles back to its normal fullness.

Be mindful of your hair products

You might want to change your hair care products to help improve your hair texture and fullness while your hair is feeling or looking a little thinner than usual. Some recommendations you could try:

  • Use a volumising shampoo containing ingredients like protein, this helps coat the hair — making it look fuller
  • Try a lightweight conditioner that is formulated for fine hair as heavier ones can weigh your hair down and might make hair loss more noticeable
  • Avoid intense conditioners or deep hair treatments that will again, be too heavy and can make your hair look flat
  • Use conditioner mainly on the ends of your hair as this area tends to be drier, your scalp naturally produces sebum so this avoids unnecessary product on your hair

Try a hair loss treatment

There's no one go-to approach for conditions such as postpartum hair loss, but treatment programs focus on getting each woman what they need, in the right doses.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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