If you recently had a baby and you’re shedding more hair than a Belgian sheepdog, you’re not alone. Pregnancy and childbirth take your hormones on a roller coaster, sending your estrogen levels soaring to sky-high heights before suddenly plummeting them back down again.
During pregnancy, your hair follicles enjoy a long, luscious 9-month period of extra growth; the five to 15 percent of your hair that normally stops growing or falls out on a daily basis (around 100 hairs), doesn’t. It keeps on growing, decreasing the usual amount of hair loss and creating a thicker and more luxurious mane during pregnancy.
However, after the baby is born, estrogen takes a precipitous dip and you begin to lose those formerly super sturdy hairs in larger quantities. After a shower, or a thorough hair brushing, you may look down to the drain or floor and find what looks like a Chewbacca crime scene. (Hair loss peaks around four months and usually goes back to normal by your baby’s first birthday).
As alarming and gross as it may be, if it’s happening evenly all over your head, be glad. Some new moms experience receding hairlines and bald spots! Besides the inevitable hormonal changes, there are other things you may be doing to inadvertently accentuate the problem.
Here are 15 reasons why you might be losing your hair (and what you can do about it).
15 Step Away From The Hair Dryer
As tempting as it may be to treat yourself to a full-on blow-out, beware. Blow-drying can pull on your hair and burn it, causing hair damage. Curling irons and flat irons also can cause the “cuticles” of your hair to become dry and brittle. When brushed, they are more susceptible to breakage, resulting in more hair loss. Using these heat-based styling tools also cause your hair to look thinner.
If you must, use the low heat setting of your dryer. If you want to mitigate heat-induced hair damage post-baby, go au naturel and air dry. (One tip though: avoid towel drying. Strangely, wet hair is more susceptible to damage than dry hair. Dabbing and squeezing your mane with a t-shirt is more protective, nourishing approach).
14 Get Your Thyroid Checked
While hair loss after pregnancy is totally normal, in some cases, it could be linked to your thyroid. Postpartum thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid – the butterfly shaped gland at the base of the neck – that causes it to produce too much or too little thyroid hormone. This occurs during the first year after childbirth and affects approximately seven percent of new mothers (your chances of postpartum thyroiditis increase if you have Type 1 diabetes or have had the condition before). Low levels of thyroid hormone, or being hypothyroid, can lead to hair loss.
It can be hard to tell if you are experiencing the normal sleep-deprived, hormonal post-baby fog or if it is something more medically serious. After all, the symptoms of postpartum thyroiditis (hair loss, fatigue, depression, anxiety, moodiness and decreased milk volume) are very similar to the typical after effects of “just having a baby.” Your safest bet is to visit your general practitioner for a blood test.
13 Put Down The Brush
Every new mom knows, after childbirth, you have precious little time to shower, shave or dress in clean clothes. When you finally do clean up, it can be tempting to brush your locks until they shine (or at least don't look like you just wrestled a bear). However, excessive brushing can cause your hair to break and fall out. According to the American Hair Loss Association, pulling a brush too hard through your hair puts a lot of "physical stress on the hair fiber, and it can cause the cuticle to flake and strip away.”
One way to mitigate the damage is by using a comb with widely spaced teeth (combs with tightly spaced teeth can do more damage than a brush). Be sure to brush gently (don’t go to town on those tangles) and keep in mind it is better to brush when your hair is dry. Wet hair is more elastic and likely to break than dry hair.
12 Pay Attention To Product
One of the things that may be weighing your hair down is using the wrong products. Certain shampoos, conditioners and styling products can give the appearance of fuller, healthier hair. Look to use bodybuilding or “volumizing shampoo” which can remove excess oils and grease and pep up those languid locks. You’ll want to avoid “conditioning shampoos” and for that matter, any heavy conditioner, as they may weight your hair down causing it to look limp.
Try using conditioner only on the ends of your hair, so it won’t be dragged down all the way from your scalp. Using products that contain biotin or silica may ease hair loss as well. Try a supplement containing amino acids, which may contribute to hair growth. And skip the daily hair washing routine (as if we know what that is). For those with thicker hair, two to three times a week is enough, and will strip away fewer "good" oils your hair needs to stay strong.
11 Vitamin Deficiency
If you are deficient in certain essential vitamins and minerals, your hair follicles may stop working properly resulting in more copious hair loss. Of course, eating healthy after baby is paramount. However your overall health (and therefore your hair health) may be improved by taking certain supplements. It’s a good idea to continue taking your prenatal vitamin, especially if you’re breastfeeding. Vitamins D, C and B7 also play a role in the growth, repair and thickness of your hair. If you're not into waiting it out until your hair loss goes back to normal pre-baby levels, many hair growth vitamin supplements containing the above-mentioned ingredients are available over the counter.
If home remedies are your thing, applying lavender oil mixed with thyme may help, as might water that has been soaking fenugreek seeds overnight (leave water on your scalp for one to two hours).
10 Poor Diet
No doubt it can be difficult to prepare and eat healthy, nutrient-rich meals when you have a newborn at home. (Much easier to eat pizza and frozen dinners for a month straight!) But eating junk can be one of the root causes of excessive hair loss. You may need to visit your doctor to find out if you are low on iron, zinc or any other essential nutrients.
While vitamin supplements can help, there is no substitute for natural, food-based sources of iron, zinc and vitamins. Examples include shellfish, spinach, soybeans, lentils, liver, red meat, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and turkey. Food that are rich in Vitamin C and B complex, such as peas, legumes, green leafy vegetables, buttermilk, yeast, whole grains, nuts and oranges, can also decrease hair loss.
Keep an eye on your protein intake. Hair is made up of protein and a low protein diet may cause your body to ration protein by shutting down hair growth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Fish, meat, eggs, dairy and other animal products are high in protein. For vegans and vegetarians, beans, peas, quinoa, nuts and nut butter, chickpeas, tofu and edamame are great alternatives to meat.
9 The Mom Ponytail
Oh hell, no, don’t take away my ponytail! Seriously, we don’t know what we’d do without the liberating quick fix of throwing our messy, frizzy, tangled mop up into a ponytail. What, do you expect us to wash our hair every day?! Insanity.
But, alas, pulling your hair back or styling it tightly can cause hairs to break or be pulled out. Ditto for tight braids, twists, cornrows, buns, chignons, hair rollers and clips. Hairstyles that pull on the scalp for prolonged periods of time apply pressure that can cause breakage and lead to a receding hairline and/or permanent hair loss, a condition called traction alopecia. If you notice thinning hair around your temples, bangs or sideburns, lots of broken strands or short, frizzy hairs around your scalp, take heed.
A few tips keep the your hair alive: wear a pony lower on your head, no higher than your ears (the ideal is a loose pony or bun at the nape of your neck). You can also use a more elastic rubber band, and even taking one or two days a week off from your pony tail addiction. Scrunchie, anyone?
8 Too Much Salon Time
We know, we are crushing your dreams, here. Now, we’re going to say don’t get those highlight or cover those grays? Ugh, sorry, but yes. If you want to decrease your hair loss during the first year of your baby’s life, it’s a good idea to temporarily keep your salon visits to haircuts only. Frequent coloring, highlighting, chemical straightening, hot oil, weaves and extensions can all lead to dry and brittle hair that is more likely to break off. In fact, these treatments can affect the hair root, leading to permanent hair loss.
Dyeing hair causes protein loss which, while by itself does not make your hair fall out, can make it appear thinner. It’s time to learn to love those roots! Just for a little while.
7 Hair Length
Speaking of haircuts, get one. Longer hair can exacerbate the hair loss issue. First, there is more to clean, brush, untangle, style and keep under control. With more to manage, you will be using more product, more heat, more potentially damaging chemicals. And, in my experience, the longer hair is, the more annoying it becomes – leading you more frequently to the wondrously convenient ponytail, whose demerits we know all too well.
A new, shorter cut may prevent additional hair loss. Longer hair can make hair loss more noticeable as the strands that you will be losing on the regular will, well, be long. At a minimum, certain cuts will give the appearance of fuller hair. A new ‘do can potentially decrease the styling (and harsh chemical products) required to maintain your look AND actually add time to your day. Every new mom needs more of that.
6 Excessive Stress
Telling a mom with a newborn to avoid stress is like telling a hurricane to avoid the ocean. If you’re anything like us, there are things everywhere to trigger stress and worry: if the baby’s getting enough milk, sleep, comfort; if you are doing a “good job” as a new mom, how to manage your new family while also managing your fear, exhaustion and hormonal moods, and when, if ever, you will stop resenting your husband for sleeping peacefully through the night.
Unfortunately, both emotional and physical stress can cause hair loss; and as a new mom, you’ve got a heavy dose of both. It may push your hair follicles into a “resting phase” (instead of a growth phase) and lead to them suddenly falling out while washing or brushing your hair.
So get more exercise, ask for help, take time for you (even if it’s just reading a book in the bath!) and get therapy if needed.
5 Too Much Pulling
Believe it or not, there’s an official name for all that nervous hair pulling you’re doing. Trichotillomania. It is a diagnosable “impulse control” or “obsessive repetitive” disorder that causes people to compulsively pull their hair out. Often beginning before the age of 17, it affects women four times as often as men.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “hair pulling can be a way of dealing with negative or uncomfortable feelings, such as stress, tension, loneliness, boredom or frustration.” As a new mom you can checkmark each one of those triggers on the list.
While it may seem harmless, a person who is constantly playing with or pulling on their hair can damage hair follicles and affect hair regrowth. It may grow in more slowly or sparsely; more coarsely or kinkier. Thus increasing the urge to pull. Antidepressants and behavioral modification therapy can be effective to treat this disorder.
Anemia is an iron deficiency that can begin in pregnancy. Signs of anemia include heavy periods, shortness of breath, pale skin, dizziness, cold hands and feet, exhaustion, anxiety and, of course, hair loss.
According to Jacques Moritz, M.D., director of gynecology at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Roosevelt in New York City, anemia "sends your body into survival mode, so your body channels oxygen to support vital functions as opposed to ones like keeping your hair intact.”
Affecting almost one in 10 women aged 20 through 49, iron deficiency anemia is the most common kind and can usually be corrected by incorporating more iron-rich foods like grass fed beef, spinach, lentils, liver and our favorite, dark chocolate, into your diet. Also talk to your doctor about taking a simple iron supplement.
3 Birth Control
Soon after giving birth, you will likely want to resume birth control. During your nine-month break from The Pill you may have forgotten about some of its lovely side effects. Among them, thinning hair and hair loss. Birth control pills cause “telogen effluvium,” a condition that moves hair from the growing to resting phases too quickly, resulting in large amounts of shedding.
Certain forms of contraception such as Depo-Provera, Norplant and NuvaRing can worsen hair loss. If you have a history of hereditary hair loss, this condition can be exacerbated by hormonal birth control methods. And, joy of joys, hair loss can also occur when switching from one form of birth control to another! Maybe condoms aren’t so bad, after all.
2 Clearly, Your Scalp Needs A Massage
Turns out, scalps need pampering, too. While perhaps not first on your list of “things to do when I finally get a moment to myself,” a scalp massage can have many benefits in remediating excessive hair loss post pregnancy. Applying light pressure with your fingers in a circular motion can increase blood circulation to your scalp and promote hair growth.
Give your tired hair follicles a spa day by rubbing and kneading the top of your head while gently pulling the skin on your scalp in an upward motion (or better yet, escape for a solo car ride and have a professional do it). Lukewarm oil such as argon or coconut oil can be used for a more luxurious and silky smooth experience. Doing this for 5-10 minutes daily will not only leave you feeling relaxed, it may help your struggling tresses get back on their pre-baby track.
1 Sudden, Dramatic Weight Loss
If you’re one of those new moms the pounds just fall off of, we hate you. Kidding! With a first pregnancy and delivery, often the post-baby weight loss can be quick and dramatic. The combination of stress, nursing round the clock and barely finding time to eat can cause those LBs to drop fast (that and the fact you are no longer housing another human being).
While losing baby weight is a good thing, sudden weight loss can be a form of physical trauma that results in thinning hair. The body is shocked into using its energy for survival rather than hair growth. Though it may sound crazy, make sure you are getting enough calories. You can multiply your target weight by 10 to get a daily calorie limit guide. Eat those fruits, veggies, protein and plenty of every new mom's best friend: Ben & Jerry's.