Your body is apt to undergo many unexpected changes while you are pregnant, but one of the most surprising may be hair growth or hair loss during pregnancy—and hair loss after pregnancy. The hair on your head may become thicker while you are pregnant, while the hair on the rest of your body may grow in unexpected ways (see “Body Hair Growth During Pregnancy” below).
After your baby has been delivered, this extra hair may fall out, and your postpartum hair loss may even continue until your hair is thinner than it was before you became pregnant. This should be no cause for alarm, however; your hair should return to its normal growth cycle within about nine to twelve months after your baby’s birth.
How Hair Grows When You Are Not Pregnant
Under normal circumstances, each hair grows for two to six years, at a rate of about a half inch per month. This is called the anagen or growth phase of the hair follicle. At the end of this period of growth, the hair will enter a transitional phase, during which it will not grow at all. This is the catagen phase, and it is brief, usually lasting just a month or so.
Lastly, the hair enters the resting, or telogen phase, and it will fall out, usually during routine grooming or even during sleep, and then the cycle begins again. Each hair follicle has its own schedule. At any given time, there are visible hairs in anagen or catagen, and there are invisible hairs whose follicles are in telogen, waiting their turn to start to regrow.
Hair Growth During Pregnancy
Higher levels of pregnancy hormones tend to prevent normal hair loss. Because of this, any hair on your head that has entered the resting phase will stay there rather than falling out, and as more of the older hairs enter this phase, they too will tend to remain. Meanwhile, the new growth cycle continues for hairs that fell out before you became pregnant. Thus, more hairs remain on your head during pregnancy.
Hair Loss After Pregnancy
After your baby is born, the elevated levels of pregnancy hormones that had prevented normal hair loss during pregnancy begin to subside, and within one to three months you will begin to lose all that extra pregnancy hair growth. This is called “telogen effluvium.” It can also last for three to six months, until all the hairs that were supposed to enter telogen have done so, restoring the normal pre-pregnancy hair growth phases.
This postpartum hair loss may be upsetting, because it tends to happen suddenly, rather than gradually, as normal hair loss resumes and hair loss that was delayed during pregnancy happens all at once. You may find that your hair is visibly thinner than it was before you became pregnant. In a worst-case scenario, your hairline may even recede a little bit.
Hair loss after pregnancy can be devastating, but you can take comfort in the knowledge that it is only temporary. Your normal hair growth cycle should reestablish itself within a few months, and after a year or so your hair should be as thick as it ever was, although some women find that the texture of their hair changes slightly.
What You Can Do About Hair Loss After Pregnancy
- Make sure your postpartum nutrition is sound, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and adequate protein.
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamins B, E, and C, and consider taking zinc supplements as well.
- Avoid braiding your hair or styling it in pigtails, weaves, cornrows, or any other style that puts undue stress on the scalp.
- Avoid blow-drying your hair if you can, but use the cool setting if you must blow-dry it.
Many women feel that prenatal vitamins keep their hair thicker and their nails hard, but more likely this improvement is caused by the pregnancy itself. Taking prenatal vitamins after delivery, which is still a very good idea, may not help to prevent this type of postpartum hair loss.
Body Hair Growth During Pregnancy
Some women may experience hair growth during pregnancy in unwanted places: arm and leg hair may grow thicker and faster, and hair may even appear in new and unwelcome places, such as the breasts, belly, back, or even the chin, upper lip, or cheeks! While this may be distressing, it is perfectly normal. Elevated levels of estrogen, cortisone and other hormones cause this extra hair growth during pregnancy, and these hairs should disappear within about six months after childbirth.
What You Can Do About Unwanted Hair Growth During Pregnancy
Do not bleach your new moustache or use any depilatories or other chemicals that you might normally use if you were not pregnant. These can be absorbed into your skin and may affect your baby. Other ordinary hair removal techniques such as tweezing, waxing, or shaving are safe, however.
When to See Your Doctor About Hair Growth or Hair Loss After Pregnancy
If your hair loss after pregnancy continues for more than six to nine months, or if you lose enough hair to leave visible bald patches larger than a dime, you should see your doctor to determine whether you might have some other condition.