Once you announce that you’re pregnant, something you might hear from other moms and parents are the queries about your hair — Is it thicker? Is it growing like crazy? — and stories about theirs, with the likely mention of postpartum thinning — how their hair was thicker than ever, but then they lost a ton after baby was born. The degree to which your hair will change different for everyone, but there are reasons why this experience is so common for moms. As with a lot of things pregnancy and postpartum, most of this has to do with fluctuating hormones.
Many people swear that their hair is growing in thicker while pregnant, though this isn’t quite right. Hair is always going through one of three phases — growing, resting, or shedding. What’s really happening when pregnant is that your hair is growing for longer than usual and shedding more slowly than usual. So, this is why it seems like you have a lot more hair!
When not pregnant, the growth phase for hair is usually 3-5 years, so it’s typical for 85-95% of the hair on your head will be actively growing, while the other 5-15% is resting. After that period of rest your hair will naturally shed; typically 8-10% of your hair will be shedding at any one time. When you try to imagine a normal amount of shedding, think about what you experience when brushing, styling, or washing your hair when not pregnant. For most people, this amounts to shedding roughly 100 hairs each day.
But when you’re pregnant, the growth phase is prolonged, which means more hair and less shedding. Hence, those especially luscious locks. Other changes that some people notice during pregnancy can include changes in the texture of hair or noticeably shinier, healthier-looking hair.
(Despite all this stellar hair news, it’s worth noting that this doesn’t happen for everyone. Some people experience hair changes that leave their locks lackluster or even limp. This could indicate other health issues, so you may want to speak with your healthcare provider if you experience this.)
Once a baby is born, a process called telogen effluvium takes place, which means that a lot of hair will stop growing and move right into the rest stage of the cycle, and stay in this phase for about 3 months. After this time, all that hair will then move into a shedding phase, so shedding will accelerate.
As a result,major hair shedding will happen around 3 months after a baby is born, and it can continue for around 6 months before starting to improve. Some breastfeeding moms might find that this major shed holds off for a bit until a baby starts reducing how often they nurse, but not always. And while some people find this loss to be gradual, for others it seems to happen all at once.
A lot of people notice a thinning that happens all over, while others find the shedding is more noticeable in certain areas. One place in which loss is both common and noticeable is around the hairline or edges.
Just how much shedding might be normal? Remember that earlier number — that the average person will shed roughly 100 hairs a day when not pregnant? During this time of major shed, new moms can shed 4x that, or around 400 hairs a day. So when you wash your hair and see those locks running down the drain this major shedding may feel as drastic as it is. Even though this is entirely normal, it can feel shocking in the moment.
Some people might choose to wash, treat, or style their hair differently during this time in the hopes of lessening how much hair is coming out but the shedding will happen regardless, in case that’s any consolation. But one thing you may want to skip until your hair is back in it’s pre-pregnancy form? Chemically based treatments that aren’t the kindest to your hair.
Thankfully these hair changes aren’t permanent. Soon enough your hair should be back to a normal grow, rest, and shed cycle. But this doesn’t mean the hair on your head will necessarily feel normal right away. Once everything is growing back at once, you might notice new hair growth appearing in some funny ways, from the growth of new baby hairs around your crown to a halo of what look like fly-aways but are just new growth at an awkward length.
Many women find that even if their shedding is really noticeable or in particularly visible areas, they can find a new way to wear their hair while regrowth is happening. It might be as simple as parting your hair a different way, adding some new headbands or headwraps to the mix, or asking a hairdresser to advise you on a new style that will work for you while regrowth happens. Even if this sort of hair loss isn’t welcome, it is normal, so you should do what you can to find a way to feel confident as your hair grows back.
If you’re ever concerned about what might be normal when it comes to hair loss, or if you experience hair loss that continues a year postpartum, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider for guidance in case there’s an underlying health condition that could be at play.