One of the most common postpartum symptoms women don’t talk about enough is hair loss, also referred to as postpartum alopecia. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the condition of postpartum alopecia affects somewhere between 40% and 50% of women. Who are we kidding? Pregnancy can be one of the most exciting and stressful times of your life! You spend nine months adjusting daily to how your body is changing, not to mention the morning sickness, weight gain, and heartburn – but you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You tell yourself once you get through those nine months, that little bundle of joy is going to make it all worth it.
As excited as they are about the recent addition to their family, most new parents are preoccupied with basics like feedings, sleepless nights, and diaper changes. They want to make sure they’re doing everything right, and that’s to be expected. For new moms specifically, they’re looking forward to losing the “baby weight” gained during pregnancy. What they’re not expecting is to lose clumps of hair on a daily basis. In fact, a majority of women report fuller, thicker hair during pregnancy. It’s the dramatic switch from that voluminous pregnancy hair to postpartum hair loss that makes new mothers surprised, terrified, and self-conscious.
During pregnancy, the rise in estrogen causes hair to stay in the growing phase longer. When hair goes into this dormant cycle, you lose less hair. This is called the telogen phase. Taking prenatal vitamins also helps keep hair shiny and vibrant. This combination leaves skin glowing and hair full and luxurious. Once you have the baby, the sudden drop in estrogen levels forces your hair into the next phase, telogen effluvium, also known as the hair-shedding phase. Now you start losing all the hair you didn’t shed when you were pregnant.
Women generally shed 50–100 hairs per day. Obviously this doesn’t happen all at once, but the gradual hair loss makes it more subtle. In comparison, the amount of hair lost from postpartum hair loss can be as much as 400 hairs per day! Postpartum hair loss is inevitable, but it is fair to say that some moms have it much worse than others.
Here are the top 10 things you can do to limit postpartum hair loss and promote healthy new hair growth:
1. Taking prenatal/postnatal vitamins
Most pregnant women know to take their prenatal vitamins when trying to conceive and during pregnancy, but they don’t realize that taking them after giving birth actually helps. There is no research that states prenatal vitamins stop hair loss after pregnancy, but the added nutrients can definitely help with overall health and hair nutrition – and they certainly won’t hurt.
2. Eating a healthy, balanced diet
Even though you may be taking vitamins, your body absorbs nutrients best through the foods you eat. The more real, whole foods you eat, the better. Foods rich in iron, zinc, vitamins D and C, and B-vitamins, like biotin, help produce and maintain healthy collagen levels in skin and hair follicles. These include berries; citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit; and tropical fruits, like mango and pineapple. Proteins, like fish and eggs, are also great sources of some of these nutrients.
3. Getting plenty of sleep
This may be easier said than done, especially for new moms, but you must remember that sleep is restorative and regenerative. It allows the body and organs to rest and recuperate during the night in order to be in optimal form the next day.
4. Avoiding stress
This may also be difficult for all the new moms out there, but try to take some time for yourself during the day. Stress is often linked to hair loss. Whether it’s 10 minutes of meditation or just making time to decompress, decreasing stress is beneficial and may slow hair loss.
5. Getting a new haircut
Getting a new, shorter hairdo, particularly with more layers, will not only help with hair regrowth, but make hair look fuller in the meantime. Cutting off split ends will limit breakage and allow hair to grow evenly.
6. Using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner
Using the right hair products, particularly toxin-free products, can add to your hair’s softness and bounciness rather than stripping the hair shaft and causing hair to look dull and frizzy.
7. Nourishing your scalp
Whether you choose to add natural hair-growth oils, like castor or almond oil, to your hair care regimen, massaging the scalp plays an integral role in good hair care. Stimulating and soothing your scalp with a massage or scalp brush increases blood flow to the area, which in turn generates hair growth.
8. Avoiding heating or over-styling of hair
Most of us don’t realize how much we put our hair through on a daily basis until it starts falling out! Using heat on your hair will dry it out and leave it brittle, causing even more hair to fall out. If you absolutely have to dry your hair, use a heat protection spray or serum and avoid using the highest temperature setting.
9. Cold washing/rinsing your hair
This may be much harder to do in the winter or if you live in a cold climate, but washing your hair in hot water allows pores to open. Porous hair not only looks unhealthy but is vulnerable to frizzing and breaking. If you do wash your hair with hot water, at least try to finish it with a cold rinse at the end.
10. Ruling out other causes of loss
Just as hormone levels change during pregnancy, hormones can be dramatically affected during the postpartum period as well. If you are experiencing significant hair loss following the birth of your child, speak to your doctor to rule out other sources, such as abnormal thyroid function or anemia.
No matter how terrifying postpartum hair loss may be, the good news is hair loss is often short-lived. It usually only lasts for six months, and by the time your baby is ready to celebrate their first birthday, hair regrowth is on its way. As with anything in life, knowledge is power. Keeping well-informed about your body arms you with the knowledge you need to tackle any issues that arise. As joyful as pregnancy can be, it is a stressful time. Surrounding yourself with other new moms is a great way to share information and learn from one another.
An Integrative Nutrition Health Coach may be just the resource you need to help you navigate stressful times. Or maybe your experience as a new mom has empowered you to become one yourself to share your journey with other moms going through similar challenges!