Postpartum hair loss explained

Losing significant amounts of hair after having a baby is entirely normal and usually settles back to its pre-pregnancy state after 12 months.

postpartum hair loss causes and treatment
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If you're a new mum and suddenly start losing handfuls of hair every time you have a shower or brush your hair, you may be alarmed. But try not to worry, it might feel like you're about to go bald, but losing significant amounts of hair after having a baby is entirely normal and usually nothing to worry about.

Dr Juliet McGrattan explains why postpartum hair loss happens, what you can do to minimise it and when hair loss might be a sign of something else that requires action:

Hair growth during pregnancy

Hair on our head is constantly falling out and being replaced. Hair growth is controlled by a range of hormones and any change in their balance can affect how much hair is lost and how much is grown. When you’re pregnant, the levels of female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, are high. The body is in growing mode. It’s growing a baby but it’s also expanding the circulation, developing a placenta and multiplying milk ducts in the breasts.

This growth extends to the mother’s hair. The high levels of oestrogen and progesterone and possibly the levels of the hormone prolactin, result in less hair loss and more hair growth. During pregnancy many women find that their hair is the thickest and healthiest it has ever been.

postpartum hair loss causes and treatments
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Hair loss after childbirth

After pregnancy, when the body is no longer responsible for supporting the baby, hormone levels reduce quite sharply. Falling oestrogen and progesterone levels result in natural hair loss. In the weeks or months after you have given birth, it’s entirely normal to lose large amounts of hair. You may not lose so much so quickly if you are breastfeeding.

Your hair will usually settle back to its pre-pregnancy state after 6 to 12 months.

It can feel as if you are losing too much and are going to go bald but that’s just because you have kept onto so much extra hair during your pregnancy. Your hair will usually settle back to its pre-pregnancy state after 6 to 12 months. See your GP if you have continued marked hair loss after 12 months.

Postpartum hair loss medical causes

While it’s normal to lose hair in the months after giving birth, there are some reasons why you may have post-partum hair loss which require you to take action:

• Thyroiditis

The thyroid is a gland which sits in the neck and it controls body metabolism. There is a condition called postpartum thyroiditis where the gland becomes inflamed after childbirth. This condition which affects around seven postpartum women in every hundred, causes the gland to initially become overactive and produce too many thyroid hormones. Excessive hair loss is a symptom of thyroiditis.

Other symptoms of an overactive thyroid include a fast heart rate, feeling on edge and losing weight. The thyroid subsequently becomes underactive with symptoms such as tiredness, weight gain or constipation. Hair loss can be a sign of an underactive thyroid too. These symptoms can persist long-term and need treatment. See your GP if you have any concerns to discuss whether you need a blood test to check your thyroid function.

• Iron deficiency

Hair loss is a common symptom of low blood iron levels. Iron deficiency is common after giving birth. Being pregnant uses your iron stores and bleeding during and after labour further lower body iron levels. If you are breastfeeding, you are also at risk of iron deficiency. A low iron level can cause anaemia where there are low levels of red blood cells in the body. Around 25 per cent of women who don’t take iron supplements during pregnancy will have anaemia one week after giving birth. Symptoms of anaemia include feeling tired, breathlessness on exertion and pale skin. If your hair loss is accompanied by these symptoms, see your doctor or midwife.

• Stress

Having a baby is stressful, there’s no doubt about it, it’s a huge life change. Sometimes big shocks to the body and stressful situations can cause hair loss. This can be a general loss (telogen effluvium) or a patchy loss (alopecia areata). In both situations the hair is likely to grow back over time. If you notice patchy loss, are struggling to deal with stress or have any scaling or redness of the scalp at areas of hair loss then see your GP.

• Trichotillomania

This follows on from the stress of having a baby but rather than the body naturally losing hair, the mother begins to pull out her own hair. Trichotillomania can start as a minor and infrequent habit but progress to a severe psychological condition and a form of self harm to relieve tension and anxiety. Mental health problems often develop in the postpartum period. It’s essential that you reach out for help if this is happening to you. You can be referred for expert advice and counselling.

Postpartum hair loss prevention tips

It’s normal for you to lose some of your pregnancy hair as hormones readjust after childbirth. You can’t change this. You can however avoid some of the other conditions that exacerbate hair loss by doing the following:

  1. Eat a healthy diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables to get a range of vitamins.
  2. Eat iron-rich foods including red meat, leafy green vegetables, chick peas, nuts and seeds.
  3. Use an iron supplement if advised to by your doctor.
  4. Avoid tea or coffee with your meal, it can stop iron being absorbed in the gut.
  5. Have food or drink containing vitamin C with your iron-rich food such as orange juice or kale, this will boost iron absorption.
  6. Take extra care of your diet if you are breastfeeding.
  7. Use a conditioner to minimise tangles and combing or brushing hair gently.
  8. Avoiding damaging your hair with heat. Minimise use of hairdryers, straighteners etc.
  9. Avoid tying your hair back into tight pony tails, this can cause hair to break. Tie loosely with a fabric covered band.
  10. Share your concerns and stresses with someone you trust.
  11. Seek help and support if you are concerned about your mental health.

    Last updated: 19-05-2021

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