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Postpartum hair loss: going…going…gone

The postpartum period can be rough enough with the dark circles under your eyes and feeling like it will be ages before you get your pre-pregnancy body back.  So, it doesn’t help when a couple months after delivery, you begin to notice that the drain of your shower is clogged with hair.  How can those luscious locks go from plentiful to pitiful in just a couple of short months? Are you losing your hair along with your mind from lack of sleep? No, not really. While you might be losing your mind from lack of sleep, you are losing your hair from a massive change in the hair cycle. Dr. Jaime Knopman and Dr. Sheeva Talebian, board certified OB/GYNs and fertility specialists, explain what exactly is happening to your hair and provide some simple tips to manage through this temporary situation (and no, they do not include buying a wig!).

What Happens

First, it’s important to understand that hair has a cycle. It grows in phases and in stages: anagen (growth phase), catagen (transition phase), and telogen (resting phase).  Unlike other stages or cycles, when it comes to hair, all three phases occur on one noggin simultaneously. So while the majority of hair (about 85%) on your head is in the anagen phase, one hair strand can be resting in telogen, while another may be in catagen.  In addition to the various stages, the hair cycle is actually fairly lengthy.  The anagen phase is largely determined by genetics but can last anywhere from 2 – 6 years.  The catagen phase (where the hair shaft stops growing and is cut off from the blood supply) lasts only about 2 weeks, and then the telogen phase (which eventually results in shedding), lasts anywhere from 1 – 4 months.

During pregnancy, there is a substantial increase in the growth (anagen) phase relative to the resting (telogen) phase. This translates into that Pantene commercial-like hair that you see while carrying your plus one. It flows, it glows, and it really never looked so good!  A common misconception is that this unprecedented growth is the result of prenatal vitamins. And while prenatal vitamins are good for you and for your baby, they are not the reason behind that magnificent mane. High levels of estrogen prolong the anagen phase. So rather than having 85% of your hair in growth and the rest in transition or rest, you may have more than 90% in growth — which means you’ll likely have some luscious locks while you are pregnant! Side note…extra hair growth does not only occur on your head. It will also be seen in some of your not-so-favorite places (a.k.a. bikini line, armpits, legs, and lips). Bottom line, you may become quite friendly with your local beauty salon.

During the postpartum period, the ratio is reversed. About 1 – 5 months after delivery, the telogen phase takes the lead, which means a higher percentage of your hair follicles will be in the “shedding” phase.  Unfortunately, postpartum hair loss can last up to 15 months. Breastfeeding will worsen the situation and promote continued hair loss (as if your baby isn’t already taking enough from you).

What you can do

While there is nothing you can do to redirect this change in your hair’s cycle, there are some things you can do to help get things back on track:

  • Continue to take your prenatal vitamins
  • Drink lots of water
  • Maintain healthy habits (including exercise!)
  • Sleep (what’s that you say?)
  • Speak to your doctor and your hair stylist about modifying your hair regimens and treatments.  While you may be dreaming about going back to your keratin treatment, your doctor and stylist may have some better tips on how to treat your tresses during this period.

The postpartum period is often dominated by creativity.  While we don’t mean drawing and designing, we do mean thinking of ways to do things with one hand, one minute of freedom, and what may feel like one functioning brain cell. Coming up with novel hairstyles and clothing options also requires creativity. Given the hair loss, you may need to employ bandannas and sweatbands to cover your hairline. But despite these short-lived innovative styles, YOUR HAIR WILL COME BACK! It may not be exactly the same (unfortunately, almost nothing really is, post-baby), but you will be able to brush without going bald—we promise!

Dr. Jaime Knopman and Dr. Sheeva Talebian are board certified OB/GYNs and fertility specialists on a mission to educate and empower women on all things reproductive.