26 Feb The Ins and Outs of Pregnancy Hair and Hair Loss in General
It is hard enough to face a changing identity when becoming a parent. Questions abound: How will my career change? Will I still have time for my beloved relationships/ hobbies/causes? Will I still be the same person? But for women specifically, there is another minefield to navigate around identity after birth: Physical appearance. And what is a more personal, emotionally charged attribute of physical appearance for women than our hair? For most of us, hair is a safety net–a dependable accessory that changes only when told to. We curate our cut, color, products and tools so we can present our best selves– the selves we want to be seen as by the world. There is power in having this control, which contributes to a certain kind of confidence. So what happens when pregnancy comes and knocks that predictability and control out of orbit?
First off, it is worth mentioning not every woman has notable changes to her hair during or after pregnancy. But for the roughly 50 percent who do, there is a fairly typical process to it. The short version is this: The average person, male or female, sheds around 100 hairs from their head each day. This is the hair that collects in brushes and makes up the hair wads in shower drains. For many women during pregnancy though, less of the usual shedding occurs. Many of the would-be shower drain hairs stay attached to the scalp, creating denser, fuller hair. It is often shinier and stronger due to hormones as well. This is the fun stage! Now for the let-down: Within roughly three months of giving birth, all those hairs that would have fallen out but didnʼt because of the gestation period, fall out over a period of roughly two to three weeks. That is thousands of “extra” hair strands detaching, plus the recommencement of normal shedding, inside of a month; it can be very alarming. But it is simply the bodyʼs pendulum swinging hard to find equilibrium after so much hormonal change. And find it it does: Three to six months later a whole new crop of hair begins to grow again and its density gets well on itʼs way back to normal. Breast-feeding duration, as well as anything else that can affect hormones (i.e. everything!), can alter this timeline slightly.
In terms of how to manage the hair loss phase, it can be frustrating, but not impossible. After losing the excess strands, the hair is often left thinner than ever before. It can be dry and lackluster, and even give the appearance of a receding hairline. If feasible, this is a great time to get a haircut. Getting rid of any length that has become brittle or practically see-through due to loss of density will help its appearance enormously. Also, if itʼs in the budget, getting a professional strengthening treatment at the salon will go a long way in the restoration process. Although it might be tempting, minoxidil-based products for regrowth (Rogaine, etc…) are never to be used during this time, especially if you are breast-feeding. Instead, look for products that help keep DHT, a hormone that keeps follicles dormant, off the scalp. These products donʼt force hair to grow the way minoxidil does, but they create the best possible environment for growth. Nioxin products have been the gold standard for reducing DHT on the scalp for decades, but there are many other brands on the market these days that use the same science.
It is wonderful to see hair coming back during the regrowth stage, but for the first few months it often just looks fuzzy. This is true for most hair textures. Think of those little baby hairs we all have on our hairline along the forehead and temples. Now imagine them all over the whole scalp, sticking out between longer tresses. Oh, and a good number more along the hairline than usual, too. During this time, styling products are a girlʼs best friend. It depends on each personʼs specific texture and style, but anything with hold (think hairspray, matte pomade, wax, gel…) can be used to press the hairs that stick out in to place. In humid climates, it is especially helpful to look for products that are humidity resistant. It may be tempting during this phase to keep the hair pulled back until it returns to normal. Use caution though; repeatedly using bands, barrettes, clips and pins in the same spot can cause breakage. The good news to keep in mind is hair grows a half inch a month on average. This means it only takes three to four months for new growth to get long enough to lay down and bring density back.
For most women who go through this, the hair has usually come back to normal by the 12 to 16 month post-birth mark. Sometimes it will come back slightly wavier or straighter, but there will likely be no drastic changes from what it was previously. If after a year there is still no density, lots of breakage, a widened part line or a recessed hairline, it is best to see a doctor. These issues can signify a hormonal imbalance that is keeping the hair from its normal cycles.
It can be an incredible emotional drain facing these processes on top of all the other changes that come with a new baby. It is helpful to acknowledge the impact on self- esteem and be gentle with ourselves as our bodies recover. It can be painful not feeling like our old selves, and then looking in the mirror to have it confirmed that we have, in fact, lost something. We must remind ourselves–and each other–that societal influences have taught us that, for females, physical appearance is directly correlated to likability, lovability and worthiness itself. We must reinforce that this is simply. not. true. When we see the Kate Middletons of the world, those who breeze out of the hospital with bright-eyes and a fabulous blow-out, we must remind ourselves it makes us no less of a woman to NOT look that way. But it is also okay to admit the feelings of fear and shame that are triggered by seeing it. To look in the mirror to see wisps where a familiar hairstyle, something we chose and shaped to our liking, used to be can feel like a loss of power and identity. It is okay to mourn the loss, but also keep in mind it is temporary. Everything has changed, but it will all come together again. There is a new normal on the horizon and you will be feeling–and looking– just fine.