Coping with Postpartum Hair Loss

As Bennett turned 4 months old, I really started to feel like I had it all together.  We were sleeping longer stretches through the night, I was exercising daily and had made it back to my goal weight, and I had truly started feeling happy and comfortable in my role as Bennett's mom.  However, it was also around this time that I started experiencing postpartum hair loss..
My hair started falling out in clumps, and I mean CLUMPS.  Although I had read about the likelihood of this postpartum symptom in my pregnancy books, seeing my hair fall out at this rate caused me significant anxiety, distracting me from what should have been amazing experiences with my new baby and causing me to feel resentment towards my husband.

This post was difficult for me to piece together because I was afraid of coming across as irrational.  I know it is just hair and it will grow back, but reciting that mantra while removing clumps of my hair in the shower did not quell the stress or tears.  I know there are many others experiencing postpartum symptoms and other health issues worse than my my own.  And I have never been all that obsessive about my hair (most days my hair was thrown under a Vineyard Vines hat).  And yet, experiencing hair loss to this extent has been pretty traumatic for me.  At the same time, while hair loss may have affected me more emotionally than it should have, I also know I am probably not alone.  So, I want to share how I've been (and still am) getting through this time and share what I've learned along the way in case there is someone else out there that needs a little commiseration.

If you want to understand what's physiologically happening on your head during postpartum hair loss then the rest of this paragraph is for you.  Your hair has a growth phase (anagen) and a rest phase (telogen).  When new hair in the anagen phase grows, it pushes out the resting, telogen hair.  Due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, you may experience more hair in the anagen phase at a given time (which is why your hair may become thicker).  After birth, hormonal changes signal more hair to enter the telogen phase, which unfortunately is followed by shedding and greater than average hair loss.  When the hair loss occurs depends on how long your telogen cycle lasts (it differs from individual to individual between 1-6 months).  Fortunately most women return to their normal hair cycles 6-12 months postpartum.  My hair loss began 4 months postpartum.  I am now 6 months postpartum and it is still occurring, but much less severely.

So, is losing your hair "normal?"  If I read one more editorial telling me so I was probably going to lose it.  Normal shouldn't be used to describe a condition that causes some people so much distress. In addition, this description can be misleading.  While hair loss can be simply a postpartum symptom, it can also be a sign of another treatable condition.  Thyroid dysfunction and anemia, for example, are both well documented to occur after pregnancy, and hair loss can be a sign of these conditions.  I experienced anemia during my pregnancy and also have a family history of thyroid dysfunction; so I called and spoke to my OBGYN about being tested for these conditions.  My labs revealed my ferritin level to be low, and it was recommended that I start an iron supplement and Biotin and continue taking my prenatal vitamin.  Although the additional supplements did not completely stop my hair loss, the testing gave me peace of mind that there was no underlying thyroiditis, and I knew I was doing everything I could to combat it.  It is very important that breastfeeding women never start any supplements without first talking to their doctor as some vitamins increase in concentration in a woman's breastmilk and may be harmful to a breastfeeding baby.  It is also important to eat a well-balanced diet and try to stay calm.  My calm was found in an evening bubble bath while my husband fed the baby.

While caring for less hair can be frustrating to say the least, I have also found reassurance in a few hair care tips.  I asked my hair stylist Lila at HC Studio in Brookline (she's absolutely amazing) if she had any styling tips while going through postpartum hair loss. As far as the cut, she recommends minimal layering and not having a style that's too long as eyes are naturally drawn to the ends of the hair.  As far as color, she recommends very subtle highlights to give the illusion of thickness.  She also recommended using a volumizing shampoo and avoiding a "cream or butter" shampoo that could weigh the hair down.

Postpartum hair loss can very traumatic for a new mother.  If you feel as if your hair loss is excessive then please talk to a healthcare professional.  It could be the inevitable hair loss as a result of post-pregnancy hormone fluctuations, but there's also a possibility it could be related to another treatable condition.


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