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Congratulations: You've brought new life into this universe, one of the most astounding things a human being can possibly do. You deserve a pat on the back (and a spa day). But instead, you're…shedding hair? It hardly seems fair, but it is common: In fact, between 40-50 percent of women experience postpartum hair loss, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
The good news? If you start to notice postpartum hair loss, it can be treated. Your hair may also fully recover and grow back. We asked board-certified dermatologists Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, and Anar Mikailov, MD, about what to look for, how to treat, and what to expect from postpartum hair loss. Read on for what they told us.
Meet the Expert
- Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Founder of Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery in New York City.
- Anar Mikailov, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive.
What Causes Postpartum Hair Loss?
Our hair has three phases of growth: anagen, catagen, and telogen. "The anagen phase is the growth phase, and about 85 to 90 percent of the hair on our head is usually in the anagen phase," says Mikailov. "The catagen phase is the transition phase—lasting about two or three weeks—when hair growth slows down. At the end of this phase, hair growth stops."
Finally, the telogen phase is when your hair resets and sits dormant—and some falls out (About 10-15 percent of hair follicles are in this phase at any given time, says Mikailov). Your every day shower drain shedding is a result of the telogen phase.
Postpartum hair loss, or postpartum telogen effluvium (PPTE), happens between two and six months after giving birth. When you're pregnant, your body produces extra estrogen to support the baby's development. Once the baby is out and living its best life, you no longer need the extra hormones, so you'll experience a drop in estrogen. "The sharp decrease in estrogen levels causes most hair follicles to enter the telogen phase all at once," says Mikailov. That means you'll see an increased amount of shedding.
The stress of the last year can also play a role in postpartum hair loss. "It is also likely a form of telogen effluvium, which is hair loss that is due to stress on the body—which can be physical or emotional," says Bhanusali.
What Are the Signs of Postpartum Hair Loss?
Bhanusali notes that postpartum hair loss is marked by how quickly the onset is. "You'll see rapid hair loss over a few weeks versus slow and steady if it's genetic hair loss," he says.
"We typically shed about 30-60 strands of hair every day," adds Mikailov. "If you are noticing excess hair shed in the shower, on your hair brush, or on your pillowcase, that is a sign of postpartum hair loss. It usually starts within the first three months after giving birth."
How Long Does Postpartum Hair Loss Last?
You may be looking at nine to 18 months of postpartum hair loss, says Mikailov. (Probably not the most welcome news after nine whole months of playing the waiting game, we know.) "If your hair isn't returning to its normal fullness around the 12- to 18-month mark, it's best to talk to your OB-GYN or dermatologist to see if the hair loss is due to something else, whether it's nutrition, stress, or an underlying medical condition," he says.
How Is Postpartum Hair Loss Treated?
Postpartum hair loss occurs naturally as your body's hormones fluctuate during and after pregnancy. It's nothing to be terribly concerned about, but it can be unwelcome. "There are ways to minimize the appearance of hair loss as well as both prescription and over-the-counter topical solutions to try," says Mikailov.
Minoxidil is the (prescription) gold standard in treating hair loss, though it can be harsh and irritating and is generally not recommended while breastfeeding, says Bhanusali. If your dermatologist does prescribe minoxidil for your shedding, just be sure to keep them updated on any pesky side effects. "In-office treatments like platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections can help stimulate hair growth, as well as low-level laser therapy," says Mikailov.
But if that's cost prohibitive (especially for hair loss that should naturally resolve over time), there are some ingredients you can look for in hair products to support scalp health. "Some over-the-counter ingredients have been shown to help thinning hair, including rosemary oil, saw palmetto extract, and marine collagen powder," Mikailov adds. In the meantime, avoid hairstyles that pull at the hair (like tight buns, ponytails, or extensions).
Does Hair Grow Back After Postpartum Hair Loss?
Though frustrating, postpartum hair loss is not permanent. "Hair should grow back after postpartum hair loss once the follicles enter back into the anagen phase," says Mikailov. "It does grow back, but it takes time," adds Bhanusali. "Patience is key."
In the meantime, focus on that awesome feat you accomplished, and rest assured that your body just needs time to recover—and that this process is completely normal.