Postpartum Hair Loss: What Is It and What Can You Do About It?

Many expectant mothers relish their luscious locks during pregnancy but experience postpartum hair loss in the months following delivery. The significant hair shedding and reduced growth can be alarming and stressful, particularly as new mamas adjust to other physical and lifestyle changes.

In this article:

The American Pregnancy Association states postpartum hair loss is a common issue affecting 40-50% of women who have given birth. If you're worried about postpartum hair shed, rest assured knowing it's usually temporary. Read more about postpartum hair loss causes, how long it may last, and how to treat it with postpartum hair loss remedies.

What is postpartum hair loss?

Hair follicles have a growth cycle consisting of several repeated phases:

  • Anagen phase (growing)
  • Catagen phase (intermediate)
  • Telogen phase (resting)
  • Exogen phase (shedding)

The growth stage of the hair cycle (anagen) can last for two to seven years, while the resting phase (telogen) lasts for approximately three months. The rhythm of the hair follicle cycle is controlled by various hormones and possibly influenced by other local growth factors and environmental changes.

The shedding phase (exogen) typically results in 50-150 strands of hair naturally shedding each day. However, women experiencing postpartum hair loss may shed considerably more hair, and notice localized thinning. This excessive hair shedding, known as postpartum hair loss or telogen effluvium, starts from three to 12 months after giving birth.

What causes postpartum hair thinning?

During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone increase to enable the placenta and uterus to deliver vital nutrients, increase the size of internal structures, improve the formation of blood vessels, and support the baby's development.

As a bonus, the increased estrogen and progesterone levels signal more hair follicles to remain in the growth (anagen) phase, and the diameter of the hair shaft thickens. This means the hormonal spikes associated with pregnancy result in longer, fuller hair. However, within three to six months post-delivery, these hormone levels drop and may cause excessive hair shedding.

Prolactin is another pregnancy hormone found to play a role in postpartum hair loss. Prolactin promotes mammary gland growth and breast milk production following childbirth. Overly high prolactin levels can increase testosterone production and cause progressive hair loss in women with genetically testosterone-sensitive follicles. Recent research also shows concentrated prolactin reduces hair shaft elongation and prematurely moves the follicle from the growth phase to the catagen phase.

Hormonal fluctuations are responsible for both the enhanced hair growth and thickness experienced during pregnancy and postpartum hair shedding three to 12 months later.

Does breastfeeding cause postpartum hair shed?

Although prolactin stimulates breast milk production, breastfeeding does not significantly affect postpartum hair loss. A recent study evaluated the hair cycle of women four and 12 months after they gave birth, and those breastfeeding were found to have more hair in the growth phase than those not breastfeeding. There is currently no research to suggest a causal link between breastfeeding and postpartum hairloss.

How long does postpartum hair loss last?

Postpartum hair loss is temporary, and hair volume will generally improve as hormone and stress levels normalize. Advanced hair shedding may start any day after delivery but typically occurs from two to four months.
For many women the effects of postpartum telogen effluvium will naturally subside as the body recovers from the spike and sudden drop in estrogen, progesterone, and other growth hormones.

The time taken for the hair follicle cycle to resume its regular rhythm will vary for each woman. For most, hair growth and thickness will return to pre-pregnancy levels within six to 15 months. However, some women may notice lasting changes to the look or feel of their hair following pregnancy.

The severity and duration of hair thinning can differ for each woman and each individual pregnancy. Those with a family history or predisposition to hormonal hair loss may experience increased or longer-lasting shedding.

How can I help my postpartum hair loss?

Although further research is needed to investigate the prevalence and optimal treatment for postpartum hair loss, there are options to support your hair growth recovery and overall health.

Vitamins for postpartum hair loss

Pregnancy depletes levels of vitamin B6, calcium, and folate. Deficiencies in Vitamin D and B vitamins have also been associated with postnatal depression.
Prenatal and postnatal supplements assist with healthy fetus development and nutritional support. However, many postnatal supplements are unlikely to address the complete spectrum of nutrient needs following pregnancy or adequately replenish micronutrient reserves. As a result, women may benefit from adding a vitamin supplement to their regime that is specifically designed to help postpartum hair recovery.

Pregnant and lactating women need to increase their intake of essential micronutrients to support their health and the health of their baby. Women's daily recommended dietary intake for a non-exhaustive list of nutrients is listed in the table below:

 Micronutrient Non-pregnant Pregnant Lactating
Vitamin A (mcg) 700 770 1,300
Vitamin D (mcg) 5 15 15
Vitamin B6 (mg) 1.3 1.9 2
Vitamin B12 (mg) 2.4 2.6 2.8
Vitamin C (mg) 75 85 120
Folate (mcg) 400 600 500

Vitamins and minerals, such as those shown above are essential for cellular growth and function, and deficiencies may lead to hair loss and other health issues. Recent research shows postpartum hair loss may be treated with vitamin D, iron, and vitamin C supplements. Further, deficiencies in folate, riboflavin, biotin, and vitamin B12 are linked with hair loss. Supplements that include these B vitamins can help improve hair growth.

The proprietary blend of ingredients in Baby Blues Vitamins delivers a balanced mix of these vital nutrients to support hair growth and whole-body health during this life stage.

How to prevent postpartum hair loss and improve recovery

Vitamin and nutritional supplements should complement eating a healthy and balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, and wholegrains. You should also maintain an active and healthy lifestyle by regularly exercising.

Reducing your stress levels helps to regulate hormone levels, which influence the hair growth cycle. In addition to gentle to moderate exercises, you may be able to reduce your stress by practicing physical relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and breathwork. Support your emotional wellbeing by seeking support through group work or therapy sessions and asking for help from friends or family if you feel overwhelmed.

Caring for your physical and mental wellbeing will help nourish your body and manage your stress levels, which as a bonus, helps postpartum hair loss recovery.