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On Postpartum Hair Loss

Photograph by Getty Images

I won’t lie—more than a few tears fell as I surveyed the damage.

There I stood under the glaring, unforgiving lights of the hallway bathroom at my parents’ house, staring into the mirror, positively crushed.

My hair—my luscious, curly, thick, red hair—hair that for more than a decade had caused countless women and sometimes men to walk up to me on the street or while I stood in line at Whole Foods and ply me with compliments—was now falling out in huge clumps, most notably along the hair line.

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Where there had once been long, healthy, wavy strands, there was now just a ring of hair fuzz, too short to braid. Even my “baby hair” had left the building. From ear to ear about an inch in diameter above my forehead I was essentially bald.

Clearly I had missed this part in What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

You know, the bad news that, in addition to a ridiculous lack of sleep, mood swings, possible weight gain and postpartum depression, you could also lose your hair.

After collecting myself and snapping a few pics to text to a commiserating friend, I jumped online to find out what I could do to prevent more hair from shedding. Then I reached out to a doctor for a little more information and advice.

“You are far from alone,” Dr. Dianne Haynes, an ob-gyn at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y., says to me over the phone. “This is an issue that causes a lot of anxiety with my patients, but it’s important to know there’s nothing wrong with you—it’s all par for the course.”

“Thirty to 50 percent of women lose their hair post-pregnancy,” explains Haynes. “It doesn’t necessarily happen every pregnancy, though. It could happen with your son but not your daughter and vice versa, or it may never happen at all. There’s no known prevention for it. The hair fallout has to do with your hormone changes,” she says. “The hair cycle has three stages—there’s a growth stage, a resting stage and a phase in between the two. When you are not pregnant, about 5 to 10 percent of your hair is in a resting phase. During that phase is when hair falls out and you get new growth. However, when you’re pregnant you spend more time in the growth stage and less time in resting, so you’re not losing that much hair. This is why many women report having such full, beautiful hair when they are pregnant.”

"By the time your child is a year old your hair should be back to normal."

“But once you deliver and your hormones go back to normal levels, more hair enters the resting stage and you have greater hair loss,” reports Haynes. “Some people lose hair throughout their heads and some only in certain places. Fallout can also be related to hair style. A dermatologist may recommend using volumizing shampoo or hair products made for thinning hair. Avoid cornrows and braids after you give birth, and it’s always good to be consuming a healthy diet—lots of fruits and veggies. Then you really just have to wait it out. After a few months, the hair grows back. By the time your child is a year old, your hair should be back to normal. If it isn’t, I’d advise seeing a dermatologist,” she adds.

Hair expert and fellow mom, Marlene Duperley, who experienced hair loss with both her kids, agrees. She advises making sure your hair gets a power pack of vitamins and minerals before, during and after the fallout period.

“It’s important to feed your follicles from inside and outside,” says Duperley, owner of the hair care line Doris Hair Care New York, which offers special products and styling advice to women in my situation. “Veggies, multivitamins—anything that has a high level of mineral content. Also put moisturizing treatments on your hair during pregnancy if you can—it helps to push the follicles out of the resting phase,” she says. “Or, where follicles are slowing dying, you can revive them. Using a hair mud treatment that contains peppermint or other stimulating ingredients is useful.”

Duperley also echoes the good doctor about avoiding certain styles while pregnant. “Avoid braids or tight ponytails because they create stress and tension and ultimately weaken the root of the hair,” she advises. “And resist the temptation to cover your hair with wigs or weaves. Those create tension and stress as well,” she notes. “Instead, moisturize your hair with extract and essential oils like coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil and argan oil; try to forget about the hair and let it grow on its own.”

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I’m trying to do this, I really am. It’s only tough to “just leave it alone” on days I need to go somewhere with my hair looking presentable. Otherwise, I’ve mastered the art of the sophisticated hair scarf tie, and, when I’m not rocking them, I’ll throw a headband over my thinning parts. And on the days I’m feeling the most self-conscious about my bald spots, all I need to do is pick up my giggling baby, twirl him around and tell myself how much he was worth them.

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