What is postpartum hair loss and is it normal?
Postpartum telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss caused by the hormonal processes of pregnancy. Postpartum hair loss typically occurs within the first six months following childbirth. It is totally normal, but many women aren’t aware of the possibility of having it until they experience it firsthand.
When Kendall first started losing hair amid the hustle and bustle of new baby life, she had no idea what was happening or why. “I had never had hair loss and I didn’t know if I would get it postpartum,” says Kendall. “I first noticed it in the shower when I would run my fingers through my hair. It would come out in handfuls.”
The truth is postpartum hair loss (yes, even in handfuls) is very common. An average of 40% to 50% of women will experience some degree of postpartum hair loss, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Rachel experienced postpartum hair loss after having her son.
Why do some women experience hair loss after having a baby?
Following childbirth, estrogen and progesterone levels that had increased during pregnancy begin to fall, which can result in postpartum hair loss. Postpartum hair loss can begin anywhere from 2 to 6 months post-childbirth.
During pregnancy, women actually experience a lot of changes in their hair due to the increase in their estrogen and progesterone levels. This can cause some surprising side effects, such as increased facial and bellybutton hair, alongside more exciting ones like a fuller, healthier, shinier head of hair. Rachel, who had experienced unrelated hair loss prior to her pregnancy, acknowledges the increased hair growth during pregnancy was a totally welcome side effect. “Having my hair grow back during pregnancy was such a tease!” explains Rachel. “I even got to the point where I wouldn’t wear wigs.”
Fuller, healthier hair during pregnancy happens because the soaring levels of estrogen and progesterone push the hair into its active growing stage for a prolonged period of time, resulting in thicker strands, less hair fall, and maximal hair growth for some lucky folks. For others, it can result in oilier strands or even changes in hair textures and curl patterns. For some women, there are no changes at all. The hormonal fluctuations that come with pregnancy are unique to each person and their body and there’s no way to predict if you will experience increased hair growth during pregnancy or hair loss postpartum.
In fact, sometimes even different pregnancies can impact your body differently. Claire, who has since been diagnosed with Androgenic Alopecia, says it wasn’t until after having her second child that she really experienced hair loss postpartum. “I had hair loss before my first daughter, but not too badly,” says Claire. “It was the postpartum shed after my second daughter that I really started to notice that it was becoming visible.”
Even celebrities experience it: Ashley Graham opened up about her postpartum hair loss this year
How much hair loss is normal for postpartum?
The truth is there is no normal amount of hair loss that you can expect to experience postpartum. This is totally individual to each person and can also be impacted by other environmental factors, such as lack of sleep, changes in diet, and other stresses associated with adjusting to life with a new baby. However, if you are losing a higher volume, don’t be alarmed. It’s not uncommon for women to lose up to 400 hairs a day postpartum.
Kendall experienced most of her hair loss along her hairline, which is the most common area that women experience noticeable hair thinning after having a baby. “I had an inch to two inches of an almost bald spot right around my temple and down to my ears along my hairline,” she explains.
Hair has a three-step cycle process: when it’s actively growing, when it’s resting, and when it’s shedding. Most people lose up to 100 hairs a day and don’t even notice because hair all over our head is at different stages in this cycle at any given time. Because hormonal processes during pregnancy prolong the actively growing stage of the hair growth cycle, women experience a higher shed as their hormone levels go back to normal.
When Claire experienced postpartum hair loss, she eventually decided to start wearing wigs.
Is postpartum hair loss permanent?
Postpartum hair loss is totally temporary. In the majority of cases, women experience postpartum hair loss for two to three months on average and then begin seeing regrowth six months post-childbirth. “It gradually got less and then I started having tiny baby hairs standing straight up when my hair was in a bun or pony!” says Kendall on her hair growth postpartum. Most women who experience postpartum hair loss should notice their hair growth is completely back to normal around the one-year mark of having their child.
If you are still experiencing notable hair loss past the six-month mark postpartum, it may be worth checking in with a doctor to see if there’s something else going on. Most of the time, prolonged postpartum hair loss can be caused by treatable conditions, such as hypothyroidism or vitamin deficiencies.
However, postpartum hair loss can also unmask or accelerate underlying hair loss conditions, like it did for Claire and Rachel. “It was when my middle daughter turned three that I kind of gave up on trying to recover the hair I’d lost,” says Claire. Many women experience pattern hair loss at some point in their life and, while there is no cure, there are treatments and other options (like amazing hair toppers and wigs!) that can help.
When Rachel didn't recover the hair she lost, she decided to lean into hair loss and buy a new wig.
What solutions are available for postpartum hair loss?
As we’ve already established, hair thinning following pregnancy is totally normal. If your postpartum hair loss is not worrying you, there is no need to explore treatment options because the hair is likely to grow back on its own naturally. “To a new mom, I’d say to go easy on yourself,” says Claire. “I put so much attention and importance on trying to get the loss to stop – [but it’s] impossible, it’s biological!”
If your postpartum hair loss is worrying you, particularly if it’s gone on for longer than is typically expected, you could consult a doctor or certified dermatologist to see if there is something else contributing to it. However, it’s important to note that for typical postpartum hair loss, there are no current universal or proven preventions and treatments to slow its rate.
Getting enough rest and avoiding stress are some obvious solutions that can help your body transition to its new normal postpartum, but (let’s face it) with a new baby, most of that is off the menu for at least the next twelve months and that’s totally fine.
If you’re experiencing postpartum hair loss, you’re not alone.
Hair loss in women is still a taboo which can put undue stress on moms who are just trying to adjust to their new normal. “It’s so hard to deal with the unknown but, for so many, as your body recovers and hormones settle, the [hair] loss does stop,” says Claire, “and if it doesn’t then there’s so many alternative hair options out there for us now – along with a supportive community of women who ‘get it’ and will support you through this.”
Rachel admits her self-confidence took a hit postpartum as her hair loss returned and she adjusted to being a new mom. Her solution: acceptance – and some new hair mail! “I decided to lean into the hair loss instead of fighting it,” she explains. “Now, I just throw on my wig and have instant perfect hair.”
Anyone who wears wigs and toppers says that the best part is how little time it takes to get ready – a savior for those busy days when balancing a newborn with other obligations. Hair toppers are a great option for new moms who are experiencing postpartum hair loss as they’re similar to extensions, but they clip onto the top of your head. Many women with and without hair loss wear toppers, just for the extra volume and ease of styling. If your hair loss is more pronounced, wigs are also a great option as they don’t require any of your own hair to be out for blending.
Postpartum hair loss can be a stressful experience, but it’s important to remember the hair fall is completely temporary and normal. “Most of the time, it does grow back. Just soak in those baby cuddles!” says Kendall.
Whether you decide to pursue alternative hair solutions or find community online, you shouldn’t let your postpartum hair loss take away from the incredible new additions to your life. “Don’t forget to enjoy your baby,” says Claire. “Don’t let hair loss take those special times away from you.”