I first noticed my hair shedding about 3 months after delivery. When it started, I was just noticing when in the shower I was pulling off extra hair when shampooing; or after brushing or blow drying... the aftermath on my shower floor.
As it progressed, there were extra hairs dangling off me constantly: on my clothes, exiting the car- I noticed I was leaving a hair trail.
I couldn't cook, or do a puzzle with my 6 year old without my hair in braids clipped off my body - because I would lose hair everywhere.
I chose to breastfeed. I started taking hair vitamins, (not just my prenatal) when my shedding really got to me. By about 6 months postpartum it all seemed to level off with new hair growing back in.
I was surprised.. no, make that horrified; when my best mom friend told me she had started losing hair AGAIN after she stopped breastfeeding. Wait, is this a thing, I wondered?
What are the side effects of stopping breastfeeding?
Some of the changes are quite obvious. You train the body to stop producing milk, so there's a period of engorgement and then your boobs shrink back to their smaller size.
The less commonly discussed change is the hormonal crash that can occur along with mood changes. My friend even mentioned feeling more angry and anxious as she weaned.
As I dove in to understand how hormones are affected during breastfeeding, I discovered that as you stop breastfeeding, your prolactin, which is the hormone that helps you make milk - starts to decrease naturally. Not only does this hormone produce milk though, it also produces a feeling of calm.
What happens next is oxytocin (an essential breastfeeding hormone), starts to let down and go back to pre-pregnancy levels. As it decreases many women mention feeling sad or grumpy, and so often it is brushed off as new mom fatigue. However the feeling is very real and its regulated and related to our hormones changing.
The truth is there aren't many studies on this because so much of what mother's go through during this time is chalked up to "new mom life" and it simply goes unreported. Additionally OBGYN visits and check ups are usually no longer on a regular basis.
With little shared, the hormone drop and stress that goes along with it is more often than not clumped in with motherhood.
Does dropping hormones impact hair loss?
Interesting enough, research points to higher levels of prolactin being more likely to cause hair loss in some who may be sensitive to high levels of the hormone.
So with the hormone dropping during breastfeeding, it seemed unlikely to be the science behind the cause of any weaning additional loss.
In fact oxytocin hasn't been directly linked as well. That said, there are some pretty incredible benefits of it being higher (like during pregnancy and breastfeeding).
- Induces sleep
- Improves social skills
- Eases Stress
- Boosts sexual arousal
- Promotes attachment
Can stress from dropping hormone levels cause additional hair loss?
We mentioned already that during weaning the oxytocin levels in your body drop pretty significantly. Depending how quickly you wean and how long you breastfeed this can lead to a type of "withdrawal."
A withdrawal so impactful that it can increase anxiety, stress, and even feelings of detachment between you and your baby in severe cases
We know too that stress and hair loss have been linked. In fact the very hair loss that occurs approximately 3 months after delivery, Telogen effluvium, is the same hair loss linked to stress. Pushing hair into a resting phase and causing stress induced inflammation in the body.
This inflammation as result, pulls vitamins that would normally be used to feed the hair, leaving it one of the last areas to be replenished.
How to minimize stress when weaning:
Now, I've seen some good and also some crazy tips on the internet for new moms to do to avoid postpartum weaning stress. "Don't look in the mirror naked" - really had me fuming.
Here are some good ones:
- Wean slowly: This will allow your body and your brain to deal with the changes slowly and steadily.
- Find ways to stimulate oxytocin: one of the best ways is holding your baby which helps stimulate production.
- Exercise: a great way to boost endorphins and reduce stress naturally
- B Vitamins: Not only great for hair but also helps support your nervous system. Investing in a good hair vitamin, like the baby blues postpartum hair gummies containing b vitamins is a great way to boost two area's of concern at once.
- Be patient and easy on yourself: Some bounce back faster than others, and for many it takes a few cycles after getting your period back, or even a year or more to feel back to your pre-pregnant self.
- Know that it's ok to get help: So many post weaning issues are not addressed or talked about. If you are feeling really low after for a long period of time, or experiencing lengthy additional shedding- reaching out to a doctor is always ok. Having your thyroid checked, or just someone to talk to can be a necessary and important help in your recovery. You deserve all the support, Mom.
So, while science doesn't necessarily show that the drop in hormones after weaning impacts hair loss directly, the stress and anxiety that can affect many women after certainly can.
While baby has lot's of checkups with doctor throughout the first years, moms simply don't. Being aware of your how your feeling is important, finding ways to reduce it is ideal, as stress can have a direct impact on additional TE hair shedding.