Postpartum hair loss is a normal – and temporary – postpartum change that is unrelated to breastfeeding. Most women will return to their usual hair growth cycle between 6 and 12 months after birth.
Many new moms notice hair loss – sometimes quite dramatic – around three months postpartum. This is a normal – and temporary – postpartum change that is unrelated to breastfeeding.
Following is how the hair growth cycle works:
All hair has a growth phase, termed anagen, and a resting phase, telogen. On the scalp, anagen lasts approximately 3 years, while telogen lasts roughly 3 months, although there can be wide variation in these times between individuals. During telogen, the resting hair remains in the follicle until it is pushed out by growth of a new anagen hair.
— from Telogen Effluvium by Elizabeth CW Hughes, MD
Normally, around 85-95% of your hair is in the growth phase at any point in time, but the hormonal changes during pregnancy stimulate an increase in the percentage of hairs in the growth phase. As a result, many women enjoy thicker hair during pregnancy, as more hairs than normal are growing and fewer than normal are resting/shedding.
With the birth of your baby (and the hormonal changes that accompany birth), a larger number of hairs than normal enter the resting phase. Since the resting phase is followed by hair shedding (and regrowth), new mothers will experience greater than normal hair loss once the resting phase ends.
Postpartum hair loss commonly starts at around three months after birth. The amount of time between childbirth and the onset of shedding corresponds to the length of the resting phase of hair growth (between 1 and 6 months, with an average of three months). The hair loss can seem more extreme if your hair grew much more than normal during pregnancy, or if you have long hair. Most women will return to their usual hair growth cycle within six months, or between 6 and 12 months after birth.
If you feel that your hair loss is greater than the norm, or if things are not back to normal by the time your baby is 12 months old, then see your doctor. Excessive hair loss can be caused by common and easy-to-remedy postpartum conditions such as hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone) or iron-deficiency anemia.
What can you do while you wait for your hair to return to its normal growth cycle?
- Get a good haircut. Some moms choose this time to get a shorter haircut or one that requires less care.
- Experiment with different hairstyles.
- A good quality shampoo and conditioner may help.
- Try different styling products, such as mousses or texturizers that “bulk up” the appearance of your hair.
- Avoid using a brush or comb that pulls or stresses the hair.
Lynfield YL. Effect of Pregnancy on the Human Hair Cycle. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology (1960) 35, 323–327; doi:10.1038/jid.1960.127