Pregnancy is probably the most amazing and physically demanding experience the body can go through. From Day 1 there are chemical changes that can have a huge impact on normal life. Even after delivery the body still has to support the needs of the baby.
The hair goes through 3 distinct phases during its life cycle. And one stage comes right after the other. Anagen is the first stage and is a period of continuous growth which can last anywhere from 3 years upwards. If you have ever felt like your hair reaches a certain length then stops growing this is probably the max time of your anagen phase. Each hair will grow at a rate of ½ inch a month, although this will vary by race and climate but not very significantly.
So what is the cause of the sudden and dramatic increase in hair growth?
The hormones estrogen and progesterone. The estrogen hormone is responsible for promoting hair growth, which means most women will experience increased hair growth during the pregnancy as the hairs become trapped in the Anagen phase. So with active hairs growing not only will experience a lot of hair growth, but thickness as well.
Catagen will follow the growth period, it is a 2 week resting phase where all growth ceases and the follicle begins to shrink.
The final stage, Telogen, is when the hair is released from the scalp and is ‘shed’. On average we will lose up to 150 hairs each day. Approximately 90% of your hair is growing at any one time, while the other 10% enters a resting phase and is not actively growing at any one time. Each hair will follow a different time cycle so not all hairs are shed at once.
Postpartum shedding is a temporary form of alopecia called Telogen Effluvium. FYI: Alopecia is the clinical name for any type of hair loss. The words sound scary but here’s the good news, it is completely normal and very common.
After the baby is born, our estrogen levels drop significantly which means that the hairs in the anagen phase gets unlocked if you will and transition into the catagen phase followed by the telogen phase. Telogen Effluvium is triggered by a change in hormones which pushes more hairs than usual into this part of the hair cycle. As a result, the number of shed hairs will increase.
Once this happens you lose a large amount of hair. The amount lost will roughly equal the amount of hair gained, but any form of hair loss can seem alarming especially following a growth spurt. For me, I felt like I was losing all of my hair and it was extremely scary. This usually occurs approximately 1-5 months postpartum. It is diffuse hair loss meaning no specific area of the scalp is the focal point for shedding.
For the majority of cases, Postpartum hair loss is self correcting, the hair will return to the anagen phase and continue to grow as normal once the hormone levels (especially estrogen and progesterone) return to normal. And most mom’s hair will go back to their usual growth cycle between 6-12 months. This type of hair loss is also common in babies so do not be alarmed if you and your child start to lose your hair.
It is important during this time to keep yourself stress free as much as possible, rested and hydrated.
Taking your supplements and having a balanced nutritious diet with a range of fruits and vegetables will ensure that you are replenishing lost minerals and vitamins which will support a speedy recovery. Check vitamin levels. Low zinc and iron are common after having a baby. It can make the state of your hair worse. Get blood work done to test your vitamin levels.
If you feel that you are experiencing unusual hair loss while you are pregnant, this may be due to a vitamin or mineral deficiency.
Keep low maintenance hair regimen. If you feel your hair isn't back to normal after about a year, consult with your doctor. It’s important to note that hair loss remedies will not work because hair shedding after giving birth is a natural process and nothing will be able to stop it.
Use natural and organic products
Deep condition and moisturize hair often
Finger detangle or use wide tooth comb
Using chemicals or excess heat
Frequently changing hair styles
Rigorous brushing or combining
Sources: American Pregnancy Association. Hair Science/Hair Growth Cycle.