“My hair is falling out!” my friend Liz wailed down the phone. “The plughole is full of it, my brush is full of it … at this rate I won’t have any left at all!”
While it’s natural to be alarmed by apparent hair loss, Liz’s situation is thought to be totally normal. Why? Because she had a baby four months ago, and postpartum hair loss is just par for the course.
Dermatologist Leona Yip says that postpartum hair loss, or “shedding”, occurs when the scalp returns to a normal growth cycle following pregnancy.
“Our scalp hairs continuously go through cycles, comprising of growth and shedding phases. In pregnancy, the growth phase of our scalp hairs are lengthened, therefore most women don't get much shedding during pregnancy,” she explains.
But several months after giving birth the shedding phase resumes – and all those extra hairs start to fall out, resulting in a noticeable loss of hair. It can sometimes fall out in clumps, leaving small bald patches, while other mums will notice a general thinning of the hair all over.
“It can be alarming,” says Leona. “This phenomenon is thought to be the result of a rapid drop in concentrations of the various pregnancy hormones at play after childbirth. But we still don’t know which hormone or hormones exactly are responsible.”
Postpartum hair loss affects a wide range of women – even actress Selma Blair has admitted it happened to her three months after the birth of her son, Arthur.
"This is so not glamorous, but it's true: I need to take longer showers so I can collect the hair that falls out and throw it away so I don't clog the drain," she said at the time. “Why do actresses never talk about that?”
The good news is that your hair will usually get back to its normal growth/shedding pattern between six and 12 months after birth. In the meantime, you can try the tips at the end of this article.
‘I went bald after becoming a mum’
Some women are affected by postpartum hair loss more than others. Maria Hocking, a mum of two, had an extreme case after giving birth to her second child.
“I lost all the hair on my head, including my eyebrows and eyelashes, and was pretty much totally bald apart from a couple of tufts,” she explains.
Maria was referred to a specialist, who told her that there was nothing they could do. She was also told that it may not grow back.
“I spent most of my time indoors at home with my two children as I didn't want people to see me. I was very tearful, my relationship with my husband hit rock bottom … I was devastated, frustrated, lost and depressed,” she remembers.
“People thought I had cancer, and some people used to avoid talking to me as it made them feel uncomfortable. That was hard, especially in the school playground.”
With the help of a wig, Maria was able to get her confidence back. She now works as a trainer and life coach supporting other women. And eventually, her hair did grow back.
Fortunately Maria’s case is quite unusual. Dermatologist Ashley Granot says that in cases like this there are likely to be other triggers on top of the hormonal changes that cause normal postpartum hair loss.
“There are other causes for hair loss and these can occur after pregnancy – one is alopecia aerate, which can lead to long-term bald patches,” he explains.
Dr Granot suggests that any women who are concerned by hair loss should see a specialist.
Of course, there is another type of hair specialist who can help women experiencing postpartum hair loss regain their confidence: the hairdresser.
Grace Titioka said her long hair started “falling out everywhere” a few months after she welcomed her first child. She felt that her only option was to get it all chopped off.”
Grace went for a short pixie cut that she says made her look funky and chic. Now, four years on, her hair has grown back better than ever.
“It’s back to its original thickness now,” she says. “I just have more grey hairs – another thing that I can blame on my kids!”
Apart from a haircut, you can try the following to help you with your shedding hair:
- use a thickening shampoo and conditioner
- be gentle on your hair – use wide tooth combs, and don’t brush it when it’s wet
- avoid using high-heat hair dryers and straighteners
- to make your hair look thicker, try using volumising spray or mousse products.
- some mums find that keeping up their prenatal vitamins or taking fish oil tablets helps
- try to avoid pulling it back into a tight ponytail or bun.