I always say that postpartum hair loss is up there amongst all the other things like diapers, (not for the baby), extreme exhaustion/lack of sleep, and the first postpartum bowel movement that everyone forgets to mention when they are reminiscing, with bliss, about their postpartum experience.
Postpartum hair loss or shedding that is significant occurs to up to 50% of postpartum women. Some of this shedding is physiological, or in simpler terms, happens for good reasons because your body realizes that it is no longer pregnant. Shedding typically starts at 3-4 months postpartum and usually slows by 6-7 months postpartum. Some women also experience another shed when they stop breastfeeding, if they breastfeed longer than when they had their initial shed.
Why Does Postpartum Hair Loss Happen
When you are pregnant you have very high levels of estrogen and progesterone circulating in your body. These hormones cause your hair follicles to stay in their active growing phase called anagen. This is also why many women experience thicker than usual hair with more body during pregnancy. Shortly after your baby is born, your hormone levels return to close to normal levels, staying slightly elevated if you are breastfeeding. It takes hair follicles approximately 3-4 months to shift from their growth phase, anagen, to their resting phase telogen and on to the shedding phase exogen. This shedding typically lasts for 2-3 months and it is essentially shedding all the hair that you did not lose while you were pregnant. If the shedding continues beyond 2-3 months, or if you are losing handfuls of hair and noticing that areas are thinning, then this may not be just “normal shedding of postpartum”
Other Causes of Hair Loss Postpartum
Hair loss can be a complicated to figure out. There are multiple causes that can be contributing, but here I will cover the most common causes I see in my practice
- Low Iron- Very common postpartum due to the demand for iron from the baby during pregnancy and blood loss during birth. When talking about low iron it is very important to know your value for ferritin, the stored form of iron. Many women are told that their iron levels are good because their hemoglobin levels are ok. Hemoglobin is a molecule that transports iron in the blood. Hemoglobin values can be normal with ferritin levels being quite low. Low ferritin can result in fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, pale skin. Ferritin is generally considered to be “within normal range” if it is higher than 12. I like to see ferritin levels of at least 40 and you need levels to be between 60-70 for optimal hair growth. Ask for a copy of your blood work or sign up to see it through your lab to make sure your ferritin levels are not the cause of your hair loss.
- Thyroid- Problems often present for many women for the first time postpartum and this could be triggered by the rapid changes that the hormones undergo in the postpartum period. Postpartum thyroiditis, inflammation of the thyroid gland, can happen anytime from 6 weeks to 1 year postpartum and it effects the production of and use by the body of thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones are involved in many processes in the body, including hair growth. Other common symptoms of a thyroid disorder are fatigue, feeling cold when others are not, constipation, dry skin, difficulty losing weight or gaining weight and hair loss. I advise all women to have their thyroid tested between 3-6 months postpartum.
- Stress- Having a new baby can be very stressful, albeit joyous, occasion. Your life is turned upside down overnight, you’re not sleeping, and many women struggle to eat enough, especially if you are breastfeeding. Stress can cause hair loss because hair is not an essential function of the body. In times of stress your body focuses on keeping vital processes going first and redirects energy and resources away from non-essential entities like growing hair.
- Low Protein Diet- Hair is made up of a protein called keratin. If you are not consuming enough protein your body will redirect the limited protein it is getting to more essential functions like your muscles, heart and brain function. Aiming for a minimum of 20g of protein at each meal helps to ensure that you are getting enough to support optimal hair growth
- Prenatal- If you have been reading the blog for a while this may sound like a broken record to you but keep taking your prenatal postpartum! It helps to make sure you are getting the base level of nutrients that your body needs, contains iron and most minerals.
- Iron- If your ferritin is lower than 30 it is likely that you will need to take iron in addition to that which is present in your prenatal. I prefer Carbonyl iron as it is easily absorbed by the body and has little to no gastrointestinal side effects
- Collagen- A scoop of collagen powder provides 8g of protein. Collagen is rich in amino acids, which your body uses to build keratin in the hair. Collagen can be stirred into water or added to a smoothie, added to baking, or into a soup, making it fairly easy to add to the diet. Collagen also helps to prevent damage to the hair follicles and may help to slow greying.
For women experiencing beyond the normal amount of postpartum hair loss or for longer than it should be occurring I suggest adding in the following nutrients as well as the supplements mentioned above
- Biotin- Will help with hair growth if you have a deficiency in biotin. It is more likely to have a deficiency during postpartum because during pregnancy the baby takes all the of the nutrients it requires to grow and leave the mom with the leftovers
- Multi Minerals- Mineral deficiencies are also something that can be common postpartum. Many of the trace minerals like zinc, selenium, iodine, silicon and copper are required for optimal hair growth.
I also suggest switching to a natural shampoo as paraben, phthalates and silicone in conventional shampoo can irritate and cause inflammation in the scalp which can exacerbate hair loss.
If you liked this blog, click here to read "What to Eat for Hair Growth"
Did you have a lot of hair loss postpartum? What did you find helpful? Do you wish you were more prepared mentally for it?
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