Categorized | Women's hair loss

Postpartum Hair Loss: What is it and is there a cure?

Pregnancy, although a natural body state, it still exposes a woman to considerable stress to her entire functional system. Many women complain of extensive hair loss after delivery.  There is a special term for such hair loss – postpartum alopecia (or postpartum telogen effluvium).  Let’s discover what the causes of this type of hair loss could be and if there is any medicinal remedy to cope with the condition.

How does pregnancy affect a woman’s hair?

To understand what happens within a female’s body during pregnancy, we need to know why postpartum alopecia develops with new mums. Every woman knows that pregnancy is associated with a great increase in the levels of the “big two” pregnancy hormones – estrogen and progesterone.  These hormones help the uterus grow, maintain the uterus lining,  promote the growth of breasts and  development of the mammary glands to produce milk.  These two hormones also help the body adjust to the new condition of pregnancy.  As well as affecting many body systems, these hormones affect the functioning of the hair follicles.

It is necessary to understand the biology of hair.  The hair follicle life cycle has of 3 main stages: anagen (active phase), catagen (transitional phase) and telogen (resting phase).  Anagen is the longest phase during which hair follicles grow hair and lasts from 3 to 7 years (depending on the individual) and involves about 85-90% of all scalp follicles at any given moment.  The telogen phase lasts for about 3 months at which time the hairthat grows from each follicle will fall out naturally.

How do the hormones affect the hair.   A  research published in 1960was among the first to discover that the high level of estrogen associated with pregnancy prolongs the active (anagen) phase of the hair cycle.1  During pregnancy, those hair follicles that should have normally entered the resting phase are still active and continue to grow hair and the number of shedding hairs is drastically reduced.  This is why many pregnant women notice their hair becoming thicker and their hair looks particularly luxurious during the last trimester of pregnancy.   Another study conducted by the researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem revealed that the diameter of the growing hair increases during pregnancy which also contributes to the overall thickening of the hair.2

Why do women start experiencing hair loss after delivery?

postpartum hair lossOnce the baby is born, the hormones in the mother’s body return to normal levels.  This means the hair follicles that were ‘forced’ to stay in anagen and grow hair can now return to a normal cycle and now switch to telogen and start ‘resting’.  Up to 60% of the hair follicles that are in anagen phase can simultaneously enter the resting phase during the first weeks after delivery. Once these follicles reach the end of telogen, they shed the hairs in order to start growing new ones.  The normal cycle of hair was delayed by pregnancy and now that delivery has occurred, a new mom can experience increased hair loss (postpartum alopecia) immediately after delivery.3

It is a completely natural condition resulting from the postpartum hormonal changes, and there is no need to panic. Postpartum hair loss affects about 50% of women and, like most of the changes that occur during pregnancy, it is temporary and not serious enough to cause permanent hair loss or bald patches.  Postpartum alopecia usually peaks in about 3 or 4 months afterdelivery and then slowly reduces.  It takes about 12 months to restore the hair that has been lost during pregnancy.

However if you see no improvement at all in the months after delivery and you feel that you are still losing too much hair, you should  consult a doctor.  Significant hair loss can be caused by such common postpartum disorders as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or iron-deficiency anemia (induced by cesarean section, for example).

Myths about postpartum hair loss.

Significant hair loss starts because of the breastfeeding. It is wrong to believe that breastfeeding leads to hair loss because it causes the loss of nutrients from the mother’s body. Although it is a fact that nutrients are important for the proper functioning of hair follicles, postpartum hair loss depends on the hormonal levels to a much greater degree.  Even moms who cannot breastfeed for some reason may experience hair loss lasting for several months.

Postpartum hair loss starts due to the lack of calcium or other minerals. It is true that if a mom does not get enough proteins, vitamins or minerals in her diet, she may face some problems with her hair but this will not cause significant hair loss. However, medical professionals do recommend pregnant women take prenatal vitamins even after the delivery.  This will not stop hair loss, but it will provide the nutrients needed in order to prevent hair loss due to other causes (like deficiency in zinc, vitamin B12, iron or manganese).

Hair loss will progress if you wash your hair every day and brush it often.  This is another misconception.  During shampooing, only those hairs that have already finished the life cycle will fall out.  These dead hairs would have fallen out soon anyway.  The same is true for the brushing.

Several tips to disguise the consequences of postpartum alopecia

Sad but true – you can do nothing to stop postpartum alopecia.  However, there are some tips that can help you mask it:

  1. Use mousses and hair conditioners. The first will help you create the illusion of fullness, the latter will make your hair look shiny and will ease the brushing process which will reduce the amount of hair left in the brush.
  2. Have a new haircut.  Visit your stylist to get professional advice.  Maybe it is time to change your hairstyle to help hide problem areas.  If you have long hair, you may need to shorten it or have it layered to frame your face.
  3. Change your hair color.  If you feel that you are losing too much hair and your hairline is receding, highlighting the front  and this will help camouflage it.
  4. Add texture to your hair.  Straight sleek hairstyles make the thinning of the hair more noticeable.  If you have straight hair, you can use hair rollers or curling irons to give your hair some volume. If you normally blow out your wavy or curly hair, then maybe it is time to leave the natural curl.
  5. Use hair ornaments. Bandanas, scarves and headbands are a great way to mask hair loss.  They are particularly popular among new mothers who don’t have enough time to devote to their hair.
  6. Change your hair part.  If you usually part your hair right in the middle, then a side hair part will help mask hair which is thinning at the temples.

 

References:

  1. Yelva L Lynfield MD : Effect of Pregnancy on the Human Hair Cycle. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology (1960) 35, 323–327

http://www.nature.com/jid/journal/v35/n6/full/jid1960127a.html

  1. Nissimov J, Elchalal U.: Scalp hair diameter increases during pregnancy. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2003 Sep;28(5):525-30.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12950345

  1. Pregnancy and Hair Loss – http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/hairloss.html