Despite the slight fear I felt growing and birthing my first baby and the sleepless nights that followed, one of the other aspects of those early few months of motherhood that gave me a little shock was the moment my hair started to fall out. Which now I know is actually a very normal process – although at the time it left me utterly confused...
Dr Paul Spano, Fellow and past board member of the Cosmetic Physician’s College of Australasia, tells me that post-partum hair loss is more common than people realise and occurs in up to 90% of women. Mainly because a woman’s hair is thicker during pregnancy with more hair in the growth phase. However, “significant hair loss causing distress, or shedding, is medically called Telogen Effluvium. It occurs in approximately 20% of women, where thinning of the scalp hair can be noticed by friends.”
This is generally why when a woman’s hair does start to fall out, it’s often small and transient and tends to go unnoticed unless it’s a severe case. Plus, if you’ve been led to believe that breastfeeding could be connected to your hair loss – Dr Spano says it’s likely not. “Hair loss, as a normal part of the post-partum, varies so widely that it is difficult to study its relationship to breastfeeding,” he says.
You see, during the last month or so of pregnancy and childbirth the hair growth phase (called anagen) is temporarily paused. Which means that the hair almost stops growing as the body uses its resources on more important matters – like the baby.
“The drop in oestrogen levels after birth also play a factor in shedding”, Dr Spano says. “These growth phase hairs enter resting, or telogen, phase. Then, a few months after birth when the body recovers, the hair begins to regrow all at once.”
So essentially when your hair starts to fall out it’s actually trying to correct the problem and everything is on the path to normalcy. Although, everybody will experience it at different levels, hence why it may be more shocking to some and not to others.
Interestingly though, Dr Spano tells me that significant hair loss post-partum is more common in older women, eg over 35’s. And the more physical or emotional stress that occurs during pregnancy, such as multiple births, prolonged difficult labour, a complicated birth (like a post-partum infection or births occurring in women with multiple medical problems), then the more likely it is that significant hair shedding will occur.
Plus, “women with very thick, coarse and long hair are more likely to notice significant hair loss and the reason for this is simple: the thicker and longer the hair, the more visible it is on the pillow or hair brush when it sheds.”
So what then can we do to fix it? And how long could that even take!
Well, hair shedding begins two-five months post-partum and on average and can continue for another five-six months.
“Generally speaking, most women’s hair growth returns to normal within a year. Although when left alone hair returns to its maximal when the baby is 18 months or two years old. Intervention with medication or other therapies (including LED Intense light therapy or PRP Plasma scalp needling) can quicken the recovery by several months,” Dr Spano adds.
Also while hormones are mainly responsible for post-partum hair loss, Fiona Tuck, Skin Expert and Nutritionist advises that good nutrition is always best to maintain your general wellbeing.
“Even if they may not have a significant impact on hair loss, nutrient-rich foods to include post pregnancy could include complex carbs such as whole grains (particularly important for breastfeeding mums), fresh fruits, vegetables, good fats such as flaxseeds, oily fish, nuts and good quality proteins such as dairy, lean meat, poultry, eggs and fish.”
Helen Feeney is the Senior Brand Manager at Viviscal, which are hair growth supplements loved by celebrities such as Cate Blanchett and Gwyneth Paltrow. She recommends women consider taking a supplement like Viviscal to nourish the hair from within, in addition to a few other simple things below:
Avoid using heat tools:
“High heat can damage the protective cuticle layer of the hair strand, resulting in dry, brittle hair. Embrace your natural texture and allow hair to air-dry whenever possible. Bonus: skipping the heat-styling also will save you time, something all new mums need!”
Sleep on a satin or silk pillowcase to prevent tangles, frizz and dryness:
“At night, cotton pillowcases absorb hair’s natural moisture, making hair drier and prone to breakage. Silk and satin pillowcases allow hair to retain its natural hydration, and since they also have more slip, they minimise friction and reduce overnight tangles.”
Ditch the ponytail:
“While it can be tempting for busy new mums to simply toss hair back in a ponytail this hairstyle and many elastics can stress on the hair shaft,” Helen says.
Call in the big guns:
When the going gets really tough, call in the expert solutions to help with thinning hair. We can vouch for Aveda’s Ivanti Advanced Thinning Hair Treatments & Solutions, as they’re specifically designed with hair loss in mind. They’re also 98% naturally derived, which is always a plus in a new mum’s eyes.
Photography: Bridget Wood