Kelsey Lucas, HelloGiggles
Early on in my pregnancy, when I was dealing with symptoms like nausea and vomiting and debilitating fatigue, I comforted myself by looking forward to all the perks I had been promised: the "glow” that everyone talks about, the hard-as-nails nails, and the thick, healthy hair. Sure enough, by my second trimester, my nails had never looked better, and my skin was bright and radiant. And as for my hair? For the first time in my adult life, it had stopped shedding and clogging my drain by the end of every shower.
I marveled over my newly steadfast strands until a few months after my baby arrived, when the clogged drain became a common occurrence again. I was disappointed, but I'd always known that my “pregnancy hair” wouldn't last forever, and my baby kept me way too busy to mind much. Life—and my hair—went back to normal for a while.
But then one morning I looked in the mirror and all the hair at my hairline—from my forehead to my ears to my neck—was suddenly one inch long instead of shoulder-length. The little pieces were sticking straight up, just long enough to be noticeable but too short to tuck away. A little bit of peach fuzz had popped up along my hairline, too, like a halo. I was freaked out—what was happening?! I couldn't have burned my hair off from heat styling or highlighting, as I hadn’t seen a blowdryer or colorist in months. And the new hair was finer, more virgin, almost like actual baby hair.
Well, as it turns out, that’s because it was baby hair: brand new strands, lots of them, growing back in for the first time after I had lost them postpartum. A quick call to my dermatologist confirmed that my body was just balancing out after a few wild waves of hair growth and hair loss—and that this excessive postpartum shedding was extremely common for new moms. After all the extraneous hair I had accumulated during pregnancy had shed, my “baby bangs” that followed a few months later were the first noticeable signs of regrowth.
Once I understood this, I felt much more equipped to handle what was initially a very disconcerting experience. The hair loss was just another normal, natural part of the awe-inspiring pregnancy and postpartum process—a sign that my body was taking a much-deserved break after working overtime for nine months to create and nurture a new life.
If you're experiencing postpartum hair loss yourself or want more info on the topic, here's what to know.
What causes postpartum hair loss?
Let’s first make one thing clear: As noted by the American Academy of Dermatology Association, postpartum hair loss is totally normal and happens, in varying degrees, to almost all people after giving birth. While it can certainly be alarming, try to stay calm—because stress can actually exacerbate the sudden shedding you’re experiencing.
So here’s what happening. “When someone is pregnant, their hair starts taking on an active growth phase called anagen,” explains Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “When people talk about how their hair is growing like wildfire and getting so thick when they're pregnant, it’s because the hair is in a growth state for much longer than normal.” (Typically the length of this growth phase is dictated by genetics, and the longer the phase, the longer your hair will grow, both time-wise *and* length-wise.)
Once you hit the postpartum phase and your body begins to regulate itself, it’s normal to shed some of that extra hair accumulated during pregnancy. This period typically kicks in as early as six weeks or as late as three months postpartum—and that’s when you might notice a surplus of strands in the shower drain or more hair building up in your brush. For approximately 70% of postpartum people, this extra shedding will pretty much just taper off as the growth cycle returns to normal.
And, if you’re anything like me, some of the hair lost will even grow right back—and surprise you by popping up as little baby bangs.
How much hair loss is too much?
“If the shedding becomes something that is way beyond what's typical for you, that’s what we call telogen effluvium,” says Dr. Simmons-O’Brien. Telogen effluvium (TE) is the clinical term for hair loss due to physical or emotional stress triggers—hence why it’s so common postpartum, affecting about 30% of people in that phase. TE usually occurs within three months of a stressful experience (which can also include things like illness, surgery, dramatic weight loss, etc.) and pushes more hair into the telogen (or resting) phase.
To put it in perspective: If you’re experiencing TE, you might lose an average of 300 hairs a day instead of 100. “It can feel very scary because it can almost seem like it’s happening overnight,” says Dr. Simmons-O’Brien. “It’s likely been happening longer than that, but you're so busy as a new parent that you're not paying attention until it really starts to peak.”
Before we go on, it’s also worth noting that postpartum hair loss can sometimes (but rarely) be related to an underlying condition called postpartum thyroiditis. A doctor can run a series of tests called a thyroid panel to rule that out, so be sure to mention this concern to your primary care physician or dermatologist.
How long does postpartum hair loss last?
With so many factors at play—like genetics, hormones, and stress—it’s hard to put a time limit on postpartum hair loss. “Active hair shedding can continue for several weeks or even several months,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist and the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. The good news? “Even without treatment, telogen effluvium will typically correct itself over the course of a year or so.” (More on treatment options in a bit.)
It’s kind of like a roller coaster, according to Dr. Simmons O’Brien. “You start at this low level of shedding, and then you keep rising, rising, rising like you’re ascending a roller coaster—and at that top peak is when you just can run your hands through your hair, and you might get 10 or 12 strands coming out at once, or you’re always finding it on your pillow or shoulders,” she explains. “Then, typically, you come down on that other side of the curve, and it becomes less and less until it stops. It takes about six weeks on average.”
Can you prevent postpartum hair loss?
While there’s no guaranteed guard against hair loss, a bit of preconception planning can help you head into pregnancy with the healthiest hair possible. Dr. Simmons-O’Brien notes that eating a balanced diet and supplementing when necessary can play an important role in your long-term hair health—as can your iron and vitamin D levels. Women who are low in iron and/or vitamin D often have a much tougher time maintaining healthy hair.
“I tell my patients to have their blood levels checked before they get pregnant—specifically the ferritin level, which is a protein that reflects how much iron is stored in the bone marrow, and then also vitamin D levels,” says Dr. Simmons-O’Brien. “There are many women who unknowingly walk around with ‘functional’ anemia from years of heavy bleeding from menstrual cycles and then take this iron deficiency into their pregnancy. Then pregnancy itself can cause anemia because the baby requires a ton of iron...and there’s also a risk of more blood loss from the delivery.”
Dr. Simmons-O’Brien adds that while the regular iron circulating in your blood benefits your other major organs, it doesn't affect your hair. “Hair, skin, and nails depend on the ferritin because they’ve basically been put on the back burner,” she says.
So, if you’re pregnant or working toward conception, ask your doc to check your ferritin and vitamin D levels—then be sure to supplement accordingly, if needed, and continue to check your bloodwork to ensure you stay in the right range. “You can also ramp up your intake of iron-rich foods like edamame, lentils, prunes, red meat, and leafy greens, like spinach,” says Jessica D. Waller, a holistic nutritionist. "If you're choosing plant-based iron sources, be sure to combine them with a food rich in vitamin C, like strawberries, red peppers, or lemon. This helps increase the iron absorption of the food you're eating.”
Additionally, to help alleviate hair loss, try cultivating a lifestyle that prioritizes stress reduction (you can consider activities like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, or gratitude) and aim to get quality sleep. Yes, it’s almost impossible as a new parent, but prioritize power naps when you can!
What are the treatments for postpartum hair loss?
If your hair loss has advanced enough to require treatment, Dr. Zeichner recommends choosing from the range of options below based on your lifestyle and the amount of loss you’re experiencing. Just remember that if you’re breastfeeding or pregnant, it’s extremely important to consult a doctor or safety source when considering topicals, supplements, herbs, and adaptogens.
There are various topicals available, each with their own pros and cons, so always do plenty of investigating first. One of the most popular, which Dr. Zeichner often recommends for women postpartum, is minoxidil. It’s the active found in OG hair loss topical Rogaine and many others, like the Hers treatment line, and "it’s FDA-cleared to address genetic hair thinning and may be helpful here as well,” says Dr. Zeichner. Keep in mind that results can take approximately six months to see, and you’ll need to continue using the product to retain the benefits. (It’s also worth noting that minoxidil is not safe for those who are breastfeeding, so proceed accordingly.)
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If you’d prefer the ease of popping a pill, you can opt for an oral supplement. “Options like Nutrafol contain a variety of botanical ingredients and have been well studied in hair thinning,” says Dr. Zeichner. (Again, many supplements are not safe for breastfeeding—so be sure to check with your doctor.) Both Nutrafol's and Moon Juice's supplements use a blend of botanicals and nutrients that address the root causes of hair loss—including saw palmetto, kelp, marine collagen (in Nutrafol), and ashwaganda (in Moon Juice).
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Hair thickening serums:
Just like a face serum, the right hair serum can help you target hair and scalp concerns. “The goal after pregnancy is to activate the anagen phase as quickly as possible,” says Dr. Zeichner. “There are many hair thickening serums designed to enhance activity of the follicles.” He suggests massaging the serum on the scalp to enhance penetration—but, of course, always follow the product’s instructions for more specifics.
The Vegamour serum, below, is enhanced with phyto-actives that inhibit DHT production, stimulate the follicles, extend the hair’s growth phase, and help strengthen the roots.
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Red light therapy:
If you’re short on patience (but open to investment), try the high-tech Revian treatment Dr. Zeichner recommends to his clients. “Red light hair caps work by encouraging circulation to the scalp, which helps deliver oxygen and nutrients,” he explains. The LED wavelengths unlock natural reserves of nitric oxide, which increases local blood flow, reduces inflammation, and boosts nutrients to the hair follicles. According to the company, this results in new hair growth that’s clinically proven to occur faster than when using other treatments.
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What treatments do dermatologists offer?
If you can, work with a dermatologist to customize a treatment plan for your own unique health circumstances. If necessary, your options might include a prescription. “Many of the women I work with will choose to use a topical steroid, which can treat the range of symptoms that often accompany telogen effluvium,” says Dr. Simmons-O’Brien. “If the TE on biopsy shows a mild inflammation process taking place, we’ll use a class three fluorinated steroid to shut off not only the hair loss but also help the sore, tingly scalp.”
She notes that these steroids aren’t safe for breastfeeding, but women can follow the “pump and toss” method as a workaround (which basically involves disposing of the milk that would contain the steroid and waiting until it has left the system until breastfeeding or pumping normally again).
Another option is platelet-rich plasma treatment (also known as PRP), which is kind of like the vampire facial of hair loss treatments. “Your blood is drawn and processed to separate the red blood cells from the white part of the blood,” says Dr. Zeichner. “This plasma is then concentrated to isolate growth factors, which are then injected right back into the areas of thinning hair.” He says to think of it like fertilizer for your hair follicles.
What’s the best way to style hair during postpartum hair loss?
There’s a reason many new mamas opt for the “mom cut,” and it’s not always about saving time on styling or keeping long locks away from grabby hands. “With hair loss, the longer hair tends to look thin and stringy,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “As much of the volume grows back in new, the hair closer to the scalp is denser than the longer hair—so cutting provides a much fuller and healthier appearance.”
When performing your basic haircare steps—like washing, brushing, and drying—choose the most gentle tools and products possible. Even basic brushing can cause breakage, for example, which is why it’s important to choose something safe for fragile hair. One move you shouldn’t make? Extensions—or anything else that will continue to stress your strands. “I do not recommend any type of hair extensions that could be traumatizing to the scalp and lead to their own set of hair thinning problems,” warns Dr. Zeichner. According to Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist and colorist known as "The Scalp Therapist,” it’s best to also drop the heat tools, as they’ll just weaken fragile hair, and push back your color appointments (or, at the very least, use milder formulas around the hairline).
Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to support your hair—and style it—during this phase. For straight hair without major waves, curls, or frizz, Hill suggests a daily water-based leave-in conditioner that will hydrate the short hairs and direct the baby bangs away from the face. Silky headbands, which are gentle on fine hair, can keep these hairs tucked back until the pieces grow into actual bitty bangs. You can also use a soft toothbrush and hairspray to smooth baby hairs back and keep them in place.
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If your hair is textured, Hill recommends using a braid, plait, or twist set at night to intertwine the shorter pieces with the longer lengths of wave or curl patterns. “Braid or twist the shorter hairs going away from the face, making sure to include all the hairs that are in front of the ear lobe. Think of this as a hairline set,” she explains. “The braids can be undone in the morning to create a textured, seamless pattern that flows with the rest of the wavy or curly texture.” She also loves an edge control product to style wavy and curly baby bangs—and accentuate them in all their glory, as seen here on Yara Shahidi.
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