A few months following the birth of her third child, amid the sleep deprivation and endless nursing sessions, 29-year-old Alicia Midey’s hair started coming out in alarming clumps. “It really started to accelerate three months after I gave birth,” says the Chesapeake, Va., mom. “I knew it was a part of the postpartum process, but that didn’t make dealing with the bald spots around my hairline easier. It was worse than it had ever been with my first two children.”
Stephanie Black, a 38-year-old mother of one from Charlton, Ont., had a similar experience, though her hair loss was delayed. “In my case, it didn’t start until about a year after I had my son, and it happened so fast I thought I was going bald,” Black says. “My doctor said it was likely pregnancy related, but I was surprised that it took so long to take effect, since I only breastfed for a few months and didn’t go back to work until months after my hair started falling out.”
Shedding hair at a noticeable rate in the first two to six months after having a baby is not unusual—online parenting groups and social media status updates are full of new moms posting, “Is this normal? I’m freaking out!” But the experience can vary among women.
“Not all women will experience this condition, and some may experience it in one pregnancy but not another,” says David Salinger, the Sydney, Australia-based director of the International Association of Trichologists. (Trichologists specialize in the treatment of scalp and hair issues.) Officially, the term for this particularly lovely side effect of pregnancy and childbirth is postpartum alopecia, and as many as 90 percent of women will have a form of it.
The body experiences soaring estrogen and progesterone levels during pregnancy, says Salinger, which causes hair to remain in an ongoing stage of growth, creating thicker, more lustrous strands. Then your hormones level out in the months following childbirth. “Hair remains in this ‘resting’ stage for approximately three months before it falls out and new growth shows itself,” says Salinger. “Typically the regrowth is in the form of ‘baby bangs’ appearing along the hairline.”
If you’re finding a surplus of strands on your pillow or clogging the shower drain, you’re not imagining things. Salinger explains that when you haven’t just had a baby, losing about 80 hairs a day is normal, but that new moms shed about 400 hairs a day. By six months postpartum, the hair loss should slow to pre-pregnancy amounts.
If you feel the shedding is not slowing down, chances are good that there are other health issues at play. Pregnancy can change your level of ferritin (a blood cell protein that helps your body store iron) and can put your thyroid out of whack, so make sure to tell your doctor that you’ve noticed a lot of hair loss, and ask to have blood tests done to check both.
Taking care of a newborn is a stressful, exhausting time and can put a lot of strain on your body, as can breastfeeding. Start by ensuring your blood sugar, iron, ferritin, zinc and vitamin D levels are normal. Next, do as much as you can to minimize stress (definitely easier said than done when you’re caring for an infant), eat a healthy diet with plenty of protein to aid the hair growth process, and don’t be afraid to shampoo frequently. “It’s commonly thought that not shampooing as often will minimize hair loss, but the truth is, the frequency with which you wash your hair will not affect the amount of hair you lose,” says Salinger. “The hair that is ready to fall will fall.”
If you’ve ascertained that your blood work is normal, consider talking to a dermatologist or certified trichologist. Treatment options can include medication, therapies to reduce inflammation around hair follicles and at-home lasers that stimulate new hair growth.
The bottom line: Though losing clumps of hair feels anything but normal for most women in their child-bearing years, it really is. “It’s almost a mom badge of honour,” says Midey. “I ended up wearing headbands, and strategically parted my hair to cover bald spots. I even used hairpieces at times. But my hair is growing back steadily now. Even if I had to go completely bald in order to have my children, it would still be worth it.”
No. That said, some women may find that genetic hair loss issues (like female pattern baldness, in which hair thins on the top and front of the scalp) can be triggered by pregnancy. This is the type of hair loss that might become more pronounced with each pregnancy, says David Salinger, director of the International Association of Trichologists.