Pregnancy causes so many biological changes, and hair loss can be one that’s distressing to a lot of women. Although hair loss in pregnancy is quite rare, the months following birth is when women are more likely to experience hair thinning and shedding.
During pregnancy, you should see your hair becoming thicker, fuller and more lustrous, but for some women, it has the opposite effect with hair becoming drier and thinner. Whichever way your hair is affected by a pregnancy, here’s our guide to why and how this happens, and what you can do if you experience pregnancy-related hair loss.
Why does hair change during pregnancy?
You may feel that your hair feels better than ever while pregnant. It may be thicker and shinier but also greasier, although the added moisture may be a godsend if you usually have drier locks.
The cause of this is (you guessed it) hormones. Hormones are the leading cause of many bodily changes during pregnancy, and the increase in oestrogen levels is responsible for changes to your hair. Although your hair may feel thicker, the individual strands of hair are no thicker than they were, it’s simply that the hair is in the growing phase (anagen phase) for longer than usual which means that less hair is shed.
Hair goes through a natural hair cycle involving growing, resting and shedding. It’s normal to shed up to 100 hairs a day, which goes unnoticed, but with the extra production of oestrogen the growth phase is prolonged and the amount of hairs that are shed daily is fewer than normal. You have more hair on your head during pregnancy, which is why it may feel thicker and fuller.
However, for a small proportion of women, pregnancy may cause hair to feel dull, thin and brittle.
Why do some women experience hair loss in pregnancy?
Pregnancy can put stress on the body, the dramatic change in hormone levels can for some women disrupt the hair growth cycle in a way that causes more strands to shed rather than fewer. The shock or stress associated with pregnancy can force hair to enter the telogen phase (resting phase) too soon, meaning you could be shedding up to 400 hairs a day rather than the normal 50-100 hairs a day. Hair loss caused by major stress to the body is a condition known as telogen effluvium. This won’t happen immediately after falling pregnant, it may take a few months before you see your hair thinning.
There are many other reasons other than hormones for why you might be experiencing hair loss in pregnancy. Not getting enough nutrients in your diet to support you and your developing baby can cause vital vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin D and iron deficiencies are common in pregnancy and are a cause of hair loss.
You’re more at risk of iron deficiency anaemia if you’re pregnant so it’s important to get your levels tested to ensure they’re in the normal, healthy range. Other telltale signs of iron deficiency are feeling fatigued and weak, you may also have a headache, chest pain, shortness of breath, and brittle nails. If you’re experiencing hair loss or any other symptoms speak to your GP about having a blood test to test your iron levels. Supplements will bring your levels to a normal range and you should see an improvement in your symptoms.
Having an illness during pregnancy or taking certain medications can trigger hair loss. If you have gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy) this may be responsible for the thinning of your hair during pregnancy. Diabetes damages the blood vessels all around the body, even the ones that deliver oxygen to the hair follicles, and without vital oxygen, your hair follicles may become damaged and the hair growth cycle becomes disrupted.
Morning sickness is a very common illness during early pregnancy, but if you’re unlucky enough to have a severe case of morning sickness you’ll likely lose lots of nutrients. This along with the stress of morning sickness on your body can easily disrupt the hair growth cycle and lead to hair loss.
Hair loss after pregnancy
Postpartum hair loss or postpartum alopecia is far more common than hair loss during pregnancy. In the months after giving birth, it may feel as though you’re losing a lot of hair, when in fact you’re shedding just as much as you were before pregnancy. As your hair growth cycle returns to normal when your oestrogen levels drop after giving birth, the amount of hair you’re shedding may seem like a lot compared to the amount shed during the 9 months of pregnancy.
Your hair growth cycle makes up for the lack of hair loss during pregnancy by shedding at a faster rate post-birth. You shed very little hair during pregnancy so it may come as a surprise when your hair returns to normal afterwards.
It’s very normal to experience some hair loss after birth, it’s a natural process and it can last a while. However, if it becomes more severe and you’re still losing a lot of hair a year after your baby arrived, it may be worth speaking to your GP to figure out if there are other reasons why your hair growth cycle has been disrupted for so long. This may be because of medications you’re taking, or any underlying illnesses or conditions.
How can you stop or slow down postpartum hair loss?
It’s important not to get stressed or panic about the clumps of hair that are falling out as you brush, it’s very normal and stress can only make it worse. If this is causing you distress and you feel that your hair is thinning there are methods you can try to prevent further hair loss, and encourage hair growth.
Treatment for postpartum hair loss will depend on whether you’re breastfeeding or not. There are some natural home remedies which are breastfeeding-friendly, and also products which are very effective at treating hair loss but may not be appropriate for breastfeeding mothers.
1. Eat a well-balanced diet
Food nourishes every part of the body including your hair. Ensure you have a diet that is rich in protein and iron, this includes eating foods such as fish, red meat, nuts, spinach etc. Think of this as fuel for your hair to help it grow.
2. Try supplements
Food isn’t always enough to provide us with the amount of nutrients we need for healthy hair growth. Adding iron and vitamin D supplements or a multivitamin to your diet is a good way of making sure you’re getting the nutrients you’re lacking in your diet.
3. Look after your scalp
Keeping your scalp in a healthy condition is important for hair growth. If you have any problems with your scalp such as dryness, itchiness, or psoriasis, make sure these are treated as scratching can break and pull the hair out. Massaging your scalp also stimulates blood circulation to the hair follicles, plus it’s great for relaxation!
4. Avoid using heated styling tools and wear gentler hairstyles
If your hair is thinning the last thing you want to do is put direct heat on it or damage it further through vigorous brushing or hairstyles that are too tight and can break the hair. Be gentle with your hair.
5. Reduce stress
Reducing your stress levels is easier said than done when you have a baby and you’re experiencing hair loss, but it’s so important to help prevent further loss of hair. Whatever keeps you relaxed do it regularly as this will help regulate your hormones and your hair growth cycle.
These methods can effectively help prevent any further hair loss and encourage your hair to grow and are great remedies if you’re breastfeeding. Check with your GP if supplements are suitable for you and your breastfeeding baby.
Try Regaine for Women
Other hair loss treatments may not be suitable for women who are breastfeeding but they’re very effective at treating hair loss. Regaine for Women is one of these products. This product is medicinal and contains the ingredient minoxidil which stimulates hair growth by increasing blood supply and nutrients to the hair follicles.
Regaine for Women is a foam which is applied to a dry scalp once or twice a day depending on the dose. The foam should be massaged into the scalp and it will not need to be washed as the solution dries on the scalp.
Some women who are suffering from hair loss have seen noticeable results within 3 months of using Regaine for Women, however, it’s not suitable for all types of hair loss. This product is designed for androgenetic alopecia which is a type of pattern baldness and is usually genetic. If you aren’t breastfeeding and you’re worried about your thinning hair it may be worth asking your doctor about whether Regaine could work for you.