Telogen Effluvium. It just sounds bad, doesn’t it? What about this, Telogen Gravidarum. Yes, that one sounds even worse. They’re just fancy ways of saying hair loss, and hair loss associated with child birth. No matter what you call it, postpartum shedding isn’t fun, and you can lose a significant amount of hair.
Like it or not, the amazing, full hair that many pregnant women enjoy has to go away sometime, and that’s typically about 3-4 months after you give birth, though the hair loss can be delayed until later by nursing or another pregnancy.
In order to understand what is going on here, first you should go and review the normal hair cycle. Then head back to this post.
So, when your hair is cycling normally, thanks to how asynchronous your hair follicles cycle, you’ll have a continual shedding of hair, rather than periods of massive quantities of being shed. However, when you’re pregnant this go all haywire! The normal progression from anagen to telogen phase is slowed waaaay down. While you don’t have a total halt of the normal hair cycle, a lot more hair follicles will stay in anagen and very few will make it to telogen phase. Your hair stops shedding, and as a result while pregnant you’ll have a lot more hair on your head! It will feel full and lush.
All of that changes a few months postpartum. While the postpartum shedding starts for most moms about 3-4 months after delivery, it really can start as early as 1 month or as late as a year or more. For me, with both of my pregnancies I first had a phase of moderate postpartum shedding at about 3.5 months out and then a bigger shedding after I weaned my daughters.
During postpartum shedding, your hair cycles are starting to operate normally again, and all of those follicles that were about to enter catagen and then telogen phase do, at almost the same time. When 9 months or more worth of hair follicles suddenly start entering catagen and telogen phases at the same time, you’ll have a decrease in your hair density all over your head.
This doesn’t happen all at the same time, they still spread themselves out a bit, but there is a much higher proportion not actively growing, so your hair will feel much thinner than normal. Combine that with the super thick hair most pregnant women have grown used to, and you’ll suddenly feel like you’re going bald!
While your hair is undergoing telogen effluvium, it really can feel like you’re losing clumps of hair each day. (Want to know how much is normal? Take a peek at what my shower drain looked like a few days ago, warning that picture is gross. And that’s normal for me when I’m losing my hair postpartum.)
While telogen effluvium (postpartum shedding) can last up to 15 months, it can take a while for your hair to start growing again afterwards. So, the effects of the telogen effluvium, the thinner hair, can last for years. Yes.
So, what can you do to prevent this from happening? Absolutely nothing. No matter what you do, you will have postpartum shedding as your hormone levels go back to normal and your hair growth cycle restores itself. But, you can do a few things to help minimize the effects.
1. Prevent other forms of hair loss
You can make hair loss worse with major illness (which yes, might not be preventable), rapid weight loss, iron deficiency, certain medications can cause TE, endocrine disorders such as hyper or hypothyroidism, scalp disorders. If you suspect you have any other health issues, you should definitely see your doctor.
2. Prevent breakage
When you’re losing a lot of hair already, the last thing you need is your hair that’s left to break off and look unhealthy! While that breakage is usually at the ends of your hair, it very well could be much higher up on the hair shaft, which makes your hair feel even thinner!
• Avoid heat styling. When you do use heat, be sure to use a heat protecting product first!
• Get regular trims! It’s tempting to skip them to get more length, but you definitely need to cut off any damaged ends before the damage can split your hair up the entire shaft. You can’t really “fix” a split end, it just needs to come off.
• Keep your hair healthy with regular use of conditioner and occasional use of a deep conditioner. I simply swap out my regular conditioner for a deep treatment product about once a week in the shower. It doesn’t take any extra time and the deep conditioning really does help my hair.
• Avoid styling your hair in ways that stress it/add to damage. For example, wearing the same pony tail day after day, especially if you’re just using a regular rubber and to pull back your hair. Vary your style to decrease the pulling on your hair and be sure to use hair friendly styling items like fabric hair ties.
3. Help your hair grow back
A good diet is always the best way to improve your hair’s growth. It works much better than adding in additional supplements. If you do want to add a supplement, Biotin is a water soluble vitamin that has been found to speed hair growth. You’ll get a lot of Biotin if you’re continuing your prenatal vitamins, which you’ll want to do if you are nursing. You also might want to consider a hair and nail vitamin, but I would discuss this with your doctor first.
4. Make your thin hair feel (or look) thicker
Once your hair starts to grow back, I swear those little baby hairs seem to be small and short for forever! But, you can take advantage of them. If your hair is dark, go and get it colored. The baby hairs will take up the hair color as well and make your hair look much thicker. I have friends who did their roots done every 2-3 weeks as the baby hairs were coming in. Darkening those baby hairs as they came in made a big difference!
Other options for helping your hair look thicker include dry shampoo and volumizing products.
Don’t forget to check out the other articles in my Pregnancy and Nursing Skin Care Guide!