The pregnant body is in a seemingly perpetual state of swelling: from newly cumbersome breasts to doughy ankles. But when you apply that swelling effect to hair, it’s a whole other story. When once-slack strands take on new proportions, it can be one of the few welcome physical shifts that pregnancy brings. A few months post-pregnancy though, the picture for many women can change drastically.
Three months after giving birth to my daughter, I started losing hair in clumps so substantial that my shower plumbing required daily tending. My hair felt flimsy and my hairline had receded significantly. This massive shedding is known as telogen effluvium – or post-partum hair loss – and, according to trichologist Anabel Kinsgley, 50% of women will experience the distress of losing three times the usual amount of hair per day. “Your hair-growth cycle and hormones are closely intertwined,” Kingsley explains. “Estrogens are generally hair-friendly and help keep strands in their anagen (growth) phase for their optimal length of time.” During pregnancy, estrogen levels rise and and consequently hair becomes thicker, but 12 to 16 weeks after giving birth, or when you stop breastfeeding, those levels experience a rapid decline – and so does your hair.
My daily habit of putting my long hair up apparently hasn’t helped much either. “Tightly pulled hairstyles tug hair from the follicle and can further weaken it,” explains Lars Skjoth, founder of hair-loss clinic Harklinikken. But besides loosening that braid, Paris- and New York-based stylist David Mallett says the right haircut (hormones make hair grow faster so expect more trips to the salon) can help to camouflage volume loss and the halo of short baby hairs that may now frame your ebbing hairline. Color can also create the illusion of volume and body. “The dye expands hair, so it’s a bit fuller, and the strategic use of color and subtle highlighting can create dimension to hide a receding hairline,” adds Mallett. And something as simple as changing your parting can cover hair loss and relieve stress on roots. “The more often we wear the same parting every day, the more we weigh down the hairs in that area and cause potential breakage,” he says.
Your scalp is not immune to the hormonal impact of pregnancy either: more estrogen means less oil secretion, so you could stretch the time between washes, but, post-pregnancy, roots tend to get greasier faster. Don’t reach for those dry shampoos though. “The chemicals and powders they are formulated with can clog follicles and throw off your scalp’s pH balance and, with extensive use, lead to thinning,” says Skjoth. A regular scalp treatment can make a difference. “It will stimulate blood flow and help hair growth,” adds Mallett. New York-based dermatologist Dr Joshua Zeichner has seen an increase in patients using PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections for hair. “It’s like fertilizer for your hair follicle,” he says. “It doesn’t grow hair where you have none, but it helps weak or lazy follicles function to the best of their ability.”
Diet and lifestyle also have an impact. Post-pregnancy stress and lack of sleep can affect the hair-growth cycle; so can iron deficiencies (common after giving birth), thyroid imbalance and skipping meals. Because nutritional inadequacies show up in hair first, a balanced diet (with plenty of protein and complex carbs) is critical. “Hair is a non-essential tissue, so your body gives it less priority. This means it’s always the last to receive nutrients you ingest and the first to be withheld from,” says Kingsley.
So, post-pregnancy, when do things go back to normal? “It’s different for everyone, but can take up to a year,” says Zeichner. Ten months on and my own mane still has a way to go. In the meantime, I’m making sure that I keep changing my parting.
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