Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Hair Loss
First of all, congratulations on the tiny human you just created! That is obviously the most important thing and the rewards are unending. But let's get real: you were probably also enjoying your thick, fast-growing, voluminous hair, possibly glowing skin and unusually strong nails that you had during pregnancy. Who wouldn't? And now that you're postpartum and your little human is on the outside, it's time to get back to looking and feeling the way we are meant to: nothing short of fabulous from head to toe.
If you're noticing that the amazing thick, shiny, and lustrous hair that you enjoyed during pregnancy seems to be falling out much more aggressively than you remember pre-pregnancy--you're not imagining it, and you're certainly not alone.
That's because postpartum hair loss is a fact of life for many women. For example, just look at Lea Michele, the gorgeous 34-year-old actress from Glee and new mom who shared on Instagram last week that her hair is in fact falling out after birth. She is arguably one of the most beautiful, natural women out there with enviably flawless genetics and impossibly thick hair to begin with (remember those thick, shiny, perfect bangs she had on Glee?)--and yet, she too is suffering from this problem. In fact, she's suffering so much that she's ready to chop her hair off. (Don't do it, Lea! Hang in there!)
What causes pregnancy hair changes?
First, let's consider what happened leading up to this moment, hormonally speaking, as this is directly related to your hair's current state. As soon as you conceived, your hormones started to shift.
The first hormone to the pregnancy party was human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. That's what gave you that positive pregnancy test, and it went from literally zero to a big fat POSITIVE as your baby formed and your hormone levels rose. Your other hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, and prolactin, started rising too, and kept rising until your baby was born. Meanwhile, your blood volume starts expanding. Your high levels of estrogen and increased blood volume have many effects (cranky and bloated, anyone?), but one of the less-known ones is that it temporarily slows your usual rate of hair loss, because they work together to keep your hair in the "grow" phase longer.
What happened after you gave birth? Well, most of those elevated hormone levels returned to normal pretty quickly; some were even back in the normal range 24 hours after birth (although prolactin will stay elevated as long as you’re breast-feeding). Estrogen in particular drops pretty quickly. Your blood volume also starts to decrease, but more gradually, getting back to normal a few weeks later. Many of your hairs that were all in the "grow" phase together now enter their last stage before they fall out, the "rest" phase, where they will stay for up to the next three months or so.
What causes postpartum hair loss?
During pregnancy, your high levels of estrogen coupled with your increased blood volume prevented your usual normal rate of hair loss (usually around 50-100 hairs a day). You were accumulating a lot more hair that stayed in its "grow" phase longer. So after you gave birth and your hormone levels slowly returned to normal, your hairs moved out of the "grow" phase into their "rest" phase, which was their final phase before they do what normal, healthy hairs do and (I hate to say it!) fall out, before starting their normal grow cycle again.
Your hair was basically making up for lost time by falling out in much bigger clumps than it normally would-- which can be scary! You wonder: what if it doesn't stop?
But let's put it in perspective: if you normally lose 100 hairs a day (a normal amount, stemming from activities like washing your hair, drying your hair, brushing your hair, rolling around on your pillow, getting it caught in your scrunchie, and just existing), then during pregnancy, you're going to lose a lot less. Let's say with all that estrogen and increased blood volume, you to lose 50 hairs a day instead. Over the course of an entire 40-week pregnancy, you'd accumulate an extra 14,000 hairs on your head than you're used to having. That's a LOT! Since a typical head has about 100,000 hairs, that's equates to roughly a 14% increase in volume by the end of your pregnancy. No wonder your hair looked phenomenal!
But, as all good things come to an end, so would the "grow" party your hair was having. So any day after your baby arrived and your hormones started going back to normal, those 14,000 extra hairs would start to say buh-bye and fall out... sadly, in what look like endless clumps.
In fact, right around the time when many women stop breastfeeding, go back to work, or generally get into a routine (around the 3-6 month mark), postpartum hair loss actually peaks, because that's when the usual "rest" phase ends. That's when things start to get scary and you start googling (or in Lea Michele's case, posting about it on Instagram). Fortunately, everything you're going through is normal. If things don't normalize within a year, it's best to see a doctor, but until then, don't fret. There are things you can do to cope.
How to slow postpartum hair loss
According to Brooke, postpartum expert, mother of 3 and author of Simply Well Family: "Consuming a healthy diet and supplementing with vitamins are two of the best ways to slow postpartum hair loss. It is also best to style your hair gently, avoiding tight braids and styles, during the postpartum period."
1) Consider your diet. The B-vitamin Biotin along with vitamins A, C, D, E, and Zinc have been shown to be beneficial for postpartum hair loss, so eating a diet rich in these vitamins can help.
- Biotin is one of the B vitamins, and considered an old-standby for hair growth as well nail growth and skin health. In terms of food sources: organ meats, eggs, fish, meat, seeds, nuts, and certain vegetables are all natural sources of Biotin.
- Vitamin A plays a crucial role in cell growth and regeneration, including for hair cells. Vitamin A also helps the body produce sebum, an oily substance that keeps the scalp moisturized. The best sources of Vitamin A are: cod liver oil, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified skim milk, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits, and other sources of beta-carotene such as broccoli, spinach, and most dark green, leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin C contains antioxidants that help protect the body against oxidative stress. It also assists your body in the production of collagen. Lastly, vitamin C assists your body in absorbing iron, which is important for hair growth. Foods that are high in vitamin C include oranges, other citrus fruits and leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D stimulates new hair growth via absorption by keratinocytes, the building blocks of hair, skin and nails. When Vitamin D is not sufficient, hair quality and growth suffers. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to:
- Telogen effluvium, also known as excess hair shedding
- Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder in which hair falls out in clumps
- Female pattern hair loss
The only natural source of Vitamin D is sunlight; 15 minutes is recommended to get our daily dose. However, we all should be rightfully mindful about cumulative sun exposure. For this reason, a Vitamin D supplement may be a good idea.*
- Vitamin E is an antioxidant often found in beauty products both topically and orally. While its potential benefits for hair require greater study, one small study found that vitamin E supplements improved hair growth in people with hair loss. Vitamin E may improve blood flow, which can help improve scalp circulation. Its antioxidant effect may also counteract oxidative stress on the scalp, which is associated with hair loss. It can also balance oil production, add shine and help maintain a healthy scalp.*
Zinc plays an important role in hair tissue growth and repair. It also helps keep the oil glands around the follicles working properly. Hair loss is a common symptom of zinc deficiency. Studies show zinc supplements may help, but it is important to avoid taking too much, which can be hazardous to your health. Check your Daily Value (DV) and be mindful of serving sizes and combining supplements.
2) Consider an all-natural women's health supplement that supports hair growth. As a woman (especially one of childbearing years), it's important to get at least 100% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) of folic acid (also known as Folate, this is important for hair growth as well). Iron is also critical for women's energy and overall health, and women are more susceptible to deficiency as it is.
When considering any supplement, it's important to make sure you're covering your bases health-wise before considering the potential aesthetic benefits (and always speak with a doctor if you are concerned about your health, or have questions about whether a supplement is right for you).
Fortunately, our very own Hyrbal Glow does both: it contains all of the critical vitamins and minerals that women of childbearing years require, while including Biotin, all of the vitamins that are helpful for hair growth, and a proprietary blend of all-natural herbs to naturally support healthy hair, skin and nails.
Photo credits: Instagram via ET Online