As any mother can tell you, pregnancy and childbirth are hard, some might call them stressful. Our bodies respond to that stress in different ways and in sometimes unexpected places — like the tops of our heads.
Kathryn Litt, MD, an obstetrician with ProMedica Physicians, says, “The big factor is that when you’re pregnant, you’re building a little human inside you, so your body is also building itself up.”
One common condition found in women after delivery is called telogen effluvium—an excessive shedding of hair. This is especially common when the pregnancy and/or delivery was particularly difficult. Our hair growth cycle includes different phases and childbirth can lead to a much shorter resting phase of hair growth (called telogen). Usually this resting phase of nongrowth is 4-6 weeks, but childbirth can shorten this phase and lead to mass shedding of hair.
Why does hair loss occur?
“Your hair gets really thick when you’re pregnant because of the hormones that accompany pregnancy and you don’t lose as much hair as you usually would due to a prolonged growth phase of hair in pregnancy,” Dr. Litt explains.
“With delivery, everything changes, your hormones get adjusted, and the added stress can cause you to go into an increased hair loss phase due to an altered hair growth pattern that occurs,” she adds. “It’s a normal process that everyone goes through. The hair loss will usually develop within two to three months of delivery.”
According to Dr. Litt, the average person loses 50-150 hair follicles each day. However, when women experience hair loss after a pregnancy, they can lose up to 35% more of their hair than usual, causing concern for women who aren’t prepared.
Dr. Litt reassures us, “This is a temporary, non-scarring form of hair loss. Once you complete the cycle, you’ll go back to your normal hair loss and growth,” she says. “You will not go bald, but you might notice as much as a 50% hair loss that can seem more pronounced near your temples.”
Can you avoid it?
There’s not much women can do to prevent losing their hair after pregnancy, but Dr. Litt recommends maintaining a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy.
In addition to hair loss after giving birth, some women experience mild anemia during pregnancy. That’s why it’s important to take prenatal vitamins, eat a well balanced diet and try not to stress out about a naturally occurring process. Within 6 to 12 months, moms will see a noticeable improvement once the cycle is complete.
“Just remember that everyone’s bodily response is different,” Dr. Litt says. “Some women may not notice they’re losing their hair as much. It all depends on the stress of the pregnancy and the health of the delivery.”