8th February, 20229 min read

Postpartum hair loss: why does it happen and how long does it last?

Medical reviewer:
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Author:
Wendy Davies
Wendy Davies
Last reviewed: 02/02/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Hair loss after pregnancy

Losing hair can be upsetting at any time, but it can be especially distressing if you’ve just gone through childbirth.

You may have noticed that your hair was thicker during pregnancy, when you shed less hair than usual. However, it can then start to fall out more and get thinner a couple of months after giving birth.

Known as postpartum hair loss, this can feel alarming. But it’s actually just your hair going back to its usual cycle of growth and loss after the changes of pregnancy. It’s completely normal, and temporary.

Here, we explain why postpartum hair loss happens, how long it’s likely to last and what you can do about it – as well as looking at other possible causes of hair loss after pregnancy.

Why is my hair falling out after pregnancy?

Like many of the changes your body goes through during and after pregnancy, excessive hair shedding once you’ve had your baby is usually caused by changes in your hormones.

While you’re pregnant, your levels of oestrogen, progesterone and other hormones rise dramatically. These hormonal increases push more of your hairs than usual into the growth, or ‘anagen’, phase of the hair growth cycle, which can lead to your hair looking and feeling healthier and thicker.

But after you give birth, your hormone levels fall dramatically, particularly oestrogen. And this causes more of your hairs than usual to go into the resting, or ‘telogen’, phase of the hair growth cycle. This leads to a drop in hair growth and an increase in hair shedding, which is known as telogen effluvium.

Telogen effluvium compensates for the extra hair growth you enjoyed during pregnancy, and it’s completely normal to lose a lot of hair in the months after you give birth.

When does postpartum hair loss start?

Hair loss after pregnancy usually starts 2 to 4 months after your baby is born. But if you’re breastfeeding, you might find you don’t lose hair as soon, as your hormones can stay at a higher level.

You might start to notice that you’re losing more hair than usual (remember it’s normal to shed up to 100 hairs a day). This will probably be most obvious when:

  • brushing your hair – you may find more hairs in the brush
  • showering – you may see more hairs in the plughole
  • getting up – you may see more hairs on your pillow

Occasionally, people with telogen effluvium also notice that the skin on their head (scalp) is tender or uncomfortable. But you shouldn’t notice any itching or a rash.

When does postpartum hair loss stop?

Getting hair loss at the same time as dealing with all the emotions of giving birth and having a newborn can be upsetting, but you should be reassured that it won’t last forever.

Telogen effluvium usually starts a few months after giving birth and can continue for anything from around 6 weeks to 6 months. In most cases, however, your hair will go back to its normal growth cycle within 1 year.

It’s a good idea to speak to a doctor if your hair isn’t back to its usual thickness after 1 year. Occasionally, postpartum hair loss can last up to 15 months, but they may want to check that there isn’t another reason for your hair loss.

When to see a doctor about hair loss after pregnancy

Postpartum hair loss is common and it’s usually nothing to worry about. However, you should see a doctor if you have other symptoms as well – and particularly if you have symptoms of the other causes of hair loss after pregnancy listed below.

You should also talk to your doctor if your hair doesn’t go back to normal after 1 year.

Hair loss can be caused by lots of different things, and your doctor can check the cause and prescribe treatment if necessary.

Use our Smart Symptom Checker to help rule out other possible causes of hair loss, such as a scalp condition or health condition.

Other causes of hair loss after pregnancy

While it’s usually nothing serious, excessive hair loss after giving birth can sometimes be caused by another condition that needs medical attention.

Thyroiditis

Losing a lot of hair at once can be a symptom of thyroiditis, which is when your thyroid gland in your neck swells (becomes inflamed). It can sometimes be triggered by giving birth, and research suggests it affects 5% to 7% of people postpartum. It can happen up to 4 months after giving birth.

At first, thyroiditis causes symptoms of an overactive thyroid, when your thyroid makes too many hormones. These symptoms can include:

  • a fast heart rate (palpitations)
  • feeling nervous or ‘on edge’
  • weight loss

After about 4 to 8 months, thyroiditis can then cause symptoms of an underactive thyroid. These can include:

You should see a doctor if you have symptoms that suggest your hair loss might be caused by thyroiditis – they can do blood tests to check your thyroid function.

Iron deficiency

Having low iron levels in your blood – known as iron deficiency – can also cause excess hair loss. It’s common after giving birth because being pregnant uses your body’s iron stores and then labour – where you bleed a lot – means you lose even more.

Low iron levels can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, with symptoms including:

  • tiredness
  • pale skin
  • shortness of breath during exercise

See a doctor if you have any signs of iron deficiency anaemia alongside your hair loss.

Stressed woman

Stress

Both pregnancy and childbirth can be physically and emotionally stressful, and stress can also trigger hair loss. Read more about stress and hair loss.

Symptoms of stress can vary a lot. You may notice physical or mental changes, or changes in your behaviour. Signs can include:

  • trouble concentrating
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • headaches, muscle tension or pain
  • being more irritable than usual

Read more about when to see a doctor about stress.

What can I do about postpartum hair loss?

For many people, it can be disappointing to lose the thicker hair that they enjoyed during pregnancy. But while you can’t prevent postpartum hair loss, there are things you can do to look after your hair while you wait for it to go back to normal, including:

  • using a volumising shampoo – to help make your hair look thicker and fuller
  • using a conditioner designed for fine hair – and applying it to the ends of your hair only
  • avoiding ‘conditioning shampoos’ and ‘intensive conditioners’ – these will be too heavy for your recovering hair

You might have to try a few products before you find a new routine that works for you. You may also want to try a different hairstyle to help disguise any postpartum hair loss or thinning. A shorter style can help your hair look thicker, and may also be more practical when caring for a new baby.

Read other tips and treatments for hair loss.

And remember, once your hair returns to its normal volume, your haircare routine can probably go back to what it was before pregnancy.

Hair supplements and postpartum hair loss

It’s best to get the nutrients you need for hair health by eating a balanced diet. You should speak to your doctor before taking any supplements during pregnancy or after the birth.

Certain vitamins are important for hair growth. If your hair loss is thought to be caused by something other than hormonal changes after pregnancy, your doctor may do blood tests for iron, B12 or folate, and suggest a supplement if your levels are low.

Some other vitamins, including zinc, biotin and selenium, have also been linked to hair loss, but they’re not usually tested for.

If you don't think you’re getting all the nutrients you need from your diet and you’re not breastfeeding, you could consider taking a multivitamin that contains a balanced amount of these nutrients. If you’re breastfeeding, you could try a supplement that’s designed for breastfeeding mothers.

Unless recommended by your doctor, it’s best not to take a large amount of any 1 nutrient, as occasionally this can lead to you getting too much, which can be harmful.

Your health questions answered

Does breastfeeding affect hair loss after having a baby?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“Breastfeeding doesn’t cause or prevent postpartum hair loss. But because your hormones may not drop as quickly after the birth if you’re breastfeeding, there’s some evidence that any postpartum hair loss can be delayed. It’s important that you get enough protein in your diet when breastfeeding, and low levels can also contribute to hair loss. The amount of iron you’ll need is usually lower than during pregnancy, until your periods start again – unless you lost a lot of blood during delivery, in which case your doctor may recommend a supplement.”

If I lose weight after giving birth will that affect my hair loss?

Answered by: Healthily’s medical team

“Losing a lot of weight in a short period of time can be a trigger for hair loss, but this isn’t linked to giving birth. You may want to lose any extra weight you gained during pregnancy, but it’s important to do this safely and avoid very low-calorie or ‘crash’ diets. These aren’t healthy or sustainable, and can mean your body isn’t getting the calories and nutrients it needs – especially if you’ve chosen to breastfeed, as this can use up to an extra 500 calories a day.”

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