As you eagerly await the arrival of your new baby, your body really puts you through the wringer. Over the course of nine months, you may experience it all: weight gain, morning sickness, fatigue, increased urination, moodiness and bloating.
That isn’t to say there aren’t a few benefits, however — aside from the baby, of course.
There’s the pregnancy “glow” that comes from increased blood volume and some women even develop longer, thicker hair. Unfortunately, some women experience the opposite.
The good news is hair loss during pregnancy is fairly uncommon (we’ll talk about postpartum hair loss another time). Just know that if you end up being one of the unlucky few, there are treatment options available to help you deal with it.
Below we’ve outlined the basics of the hair growth cycle to help you understand how pregnancy affects your hair. We’ve also included an overview of potential causes for hair loss during pregnancy and an in-depth review of treatment options.
You may think of your hair as something that grows constantly but that isn’t quite true. Your hair grows in a cycle that consists of four different phases:
Each and every hair on your head grows from a separate follicle — there are roughly one million on your head and about 100,000 on your scalp.
The hair follicles themselves are found inside the skin while the shaft is the part of the hair visible above the skin. Each hair follicle extends down into the dermis layer of skin where it is fed by capillaries. Near the surface of the skin each hair follicle connects to a sebaceous gland which produces oil that conditions the hair and skin.
The first stage of hair growth, the anagen phase, lasts between two and six years on average. During this phase, hairs grow continuously. About 90 percent of the hairs on your head are in the anagen phase at any given time.
After the anagen phase ends, the hairs go through a transition phase that can last a few weeks, during which hair growth slows as the hair follicle shrinks. The hair also separates from the bottom of the hair follicle during this time but doesn’t fall out quite yet.
The next phase is the telogen or resting phase which lasts about three months. During this phase, new hairs start to form in the follicles that have just released hairs that have finished growing. Finally, the old hairs are shed during the exogen or shedding phase.
It’s normal to lose anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs per day. If you’re finding clumps of hair in the shower, on your pillow, or in your hairbrush, however, it could be a problem.
For many women, hair loss manifests in the form of overall thinning — bald spots and a receding hairline are more common in men.
Here are some of the potential causes for hair loss in women:
It’s no secret that your body becomes flooded with hormones during pregnancy, particularly during your first trimester.
Estrogen production hits an all-time high which, for some women, causes a condition called telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is the most common form of diffuse hair loss and it usually occurs about three months after a stressful event or hormonal shift.
Hair loss could also be genetic. Androgenic alopecia (female-pattern baldness) is a hereditary condition that is usually associated with aging — and is also the most common form of hair loss in women..
Pregnancy is considered a health condition itself, but it can also bring about other medical conditions. About two percent to three percent of pregnant women experience hypothyroidism (of which hair loss is a symptom) and pregnant women are at an increased risk for iron deficiency anemia.
Pregnant women are also at-risk for gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and more.
Other potential causes for hair loss in women include everything from side effects from certain medications, to certain illnesses, scalp infections, certain nutrient deficiencies and everything in between — including excessive styling. Tight hairstyles can be hard on your hair, as can heat styling.
Hair loss is less common during pregnancy than increases in hair growth or thickness, but it does happen. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, out of 400 pregnant women, 92 (23 percent) experienced hair loss at some point during their pregnancy.
If you’re losing a lot of hair during your pregnancy, talk to your healthcare provider or dermatologist to diagnose the underlying problem. From there, you can begin talking about the treatment options.
Healthy hair starts with a healthy diet. Making sure you get balanced nutrition is always important, but especially during pregnancy since you’ll be passing those nutrients on to your baby.
Protein is essential for healthy hair growth, so load up on lean sources like chicken and turkey. Biotin is a nutrient that interacts with cell enzymes to promote amino acids — compounds that act as the building blocks of proteins. Iron, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, and B vitamins are important for hair as well.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables because they are rich in flavonoids and antioxidants. These natural plant compounds help protect the hair follicle and encourage healthy hair growth.
You should already be taking prenatal vitamins, so check to see which of these nutrients you’re already getting there. Most prenatal vitamins include at least folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamin D.
If your hair loss is linked to an underlying health problem, talk to your healthcare provider about appropriate treatment. For issues like hypothyroidism, a simple daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone (in pill form) could help you manage your symptoms. If you have low iron, taking iron supplements could help.
You’ve understandably got a lot on your plate with the impending arrival of a new baby, but it’s important for your baby’s health and your own that you keep your stress levels under control.
Stress and hair loss are more closely related than you may realize, so keeping your stress level down could help you keep hair loss at bay. Stress is particularly linked to telogen effluvium but can also be a triggering factor for alopecia areata.
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises, yoga and meditation are known stress relievers. Make time to rest and put a little extra effort into self-care for a while. It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep on a daily basis.
Your hair depends on healthy circulation to receive the nutrient-rich blood it needs to grow. Cardiovascular exercises boost blood flow, which also strengthens your heart.
During pregnancy, you may need to adjust your workout routine but there’s no reason you can’t exercise as long as you stay healthy. Some of the safest activities include swimming, walking, stationary cycling, and low-impact aerobics. Talk to your healthcare provider to make sure you’re healthy enough for exercise and to find a form of exercise that is safe and comfortable for you.
Be gentle with your hair, especially when it is wet, to avoid making hair loss worse.
Avoid combing wet hair when possible or use a wide-toothed comb. Dry your hair with a towel or use the lowest heat setting on your hairdryer. Blow dryers can dry out and damage your hair if the setting is too high, as can heated hair instruments. Damage can lead to increased hair shedding.
When it comes to styling your hair during pregnancy, keep it simple. If you’re already noticing increased hair fall or hair thinning, avoid heavy products like conditioners that could weigh your hair down.
Keep your hairstyle simple as well, avoiding tight styles like weaves, pigtails, braids, and cornrows that could put too much pressure on your hair. If you like to wear your hair in a ponytail, keep it loose and use a non-damaging hair band.
If your healthcare provider determines that you have a hereditary form of hair loss, you may come across treatment options like minoxidil (Rogaine®) and finasteride (Propecia®).
Minoxidil is an over-the-counter treatment that comes in the form of liquid, foam or shampoo. It is applied directly to the scalp twice daily and promotes hair growth by shedding old hairs and replacing them with new, stronger regrowth.
Finasteride is a prescription medication and, though typically prescribed to men, can be used in women as an alternative to minoxidil.
In either case, it may take several months to see results but, more importantly, neither of these products are safe for pregnant women.
You’ll need to wait until after your due date and once you’ve gotten your healthcare provider’s approval to try either of these treatments.
Once you’ve started treatment for hair loss, the key is to stick with it. It could take weeks or months to fully realize the benefits of the treatment and the effects may go away if you stop. You should also be aware that, even with treatment, you may still experience postpartum hair loss or telogen effluvium.
Postpartum hair loss affects roughly half of new moms, usually in the first few months postpartum.
During pregnancy, increased hormone production keeps your hair in the resting phase which keeps you from losing your hair. After hormone production normalizes, however, the hair resumes its normal cycle of growth and shedding. Hairs that weren’t shed during pregnancy may fall out all at once.
The good news is this isn’t true hair loss — it’s only temporary.
For most women, normal hair growth returns over the next 12 months. In the meantime, you can try volumizing shampoo, products designed for fine hair, or a new hairstyle that makes your hair look fuller.
Hair is an essential aspect of identity for many women, so hair loss could hit you pretty hard. When your body is functioning as a vessel for new life, you should feel excited, privileged, even proud. Pregnancy can be tough on your body image but adding hair loss on top of it all is the last thing you need.
If you’re experiencing hair loss during pregnancy, talk to a healthcare professional. Treatment options do exist, and your healthcare provider can help you identify the underlying cause of your hair loss to help you decide on the best form of treatment to start now or to try after delivery.