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As if all the other body changes women go through during pregnancy aren’t enough, hair loss during pregnancy can almost seem like the last straw. Stretch marks, aching legs, urinary incontinence and swollen feet are surely enough, but when you start to feel you’re losing more hair than the family cat at the end of winter, then this really is a bridge too far.

But fret not. Help is at hand, no matter how desperate you may be feeling.

Let’s look at the facts first and see what causes hair loss during pregnancy and what you can do about it.

Has My Hair Just Stopped Growing?

Not completely, but this is almost certainly contributing. At any one time, 85% of our hair is growing. This is also known as anagen hair and the other 15% otherwise known as telogen hair, is having a rest.

Each hair follicle usually grows anagen hair for around four years and then has a rest for around four months. Around every 2-3 months the hair which is resting falls out so that new hair can grow in its place. As the new anagen hair emerges it pushes out the telogen hair to make room for itself.

We generally all lose hair at a steady and continual rate. Most of us are familiar with pulling hair out of our combs and brushes, particularly after a good hair wash. On average, we lose about 100 hairs a day, but this changes during times of excessive shedding and/or retention.

What happens during pregnancy is that hair tends to go into more of a resting and retentive phase; we don’t lose as much hair on a regular basis as we normally do. This is the reason why so many women experience fuller heads of hair during their pregnancy. Many actually say their hair has never looked as thick and full.

Some women actually experience a change in the structure of their hair; it becomes curlier, or straight, darker or even a shade or two lighter. Be prepared for some hair differences during your pregnancy, even if you’d prefer not to have any.

Hair changes aren’t just limited to what’s sprouting on your head either. Many women find an increase in their body hair as well. Increasing hair growth on their legs, chest, in their armpits, pubic area and even around their nipples can all make for some interesting observations. You may find you need to wax, tweeze, thread and/or shave more frequently when you are pregnant. If you are particularly troubled you may want to talk to a dermatologist about treatment options.

What Else Can Cause Changes in Hair Growth?

When a person has gone through a shock or a change causing their body to alter its usual equilibrium, hair growth can be affected. This is not surprising because most, if not all, body systems can be affected by shock. So instead of the usual 85% growing and 15% ratio of hair loss and resting phases (club hairs), this order is reversed. The majority of hair can go into a telogen (resting) phase making the remaining 15-20% of hair do all the active work in rejuvenating hair volume and replacement.

Common Causes for Hair Growth Slowing

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Lactation
  • A surgical operation
  • Illness, especially if there has been an elevated temperature
  • An accident
  • Hormonal influence, particularly a decrease or increase in the amount of oestrogen being produced
  • The contraceptive pill or other hormone based contraceptives
  • Some medications
  • Sudden weight loss
  • A sudden emotional shock
  • Dietary insufficiencies, in particular protein and Vitamin B6

Two months is the general time frame between a major shock to the system and when hair loss becomes noticeable. The club hair is pushed out by new hairs coming up through the scalp. This isn’t all bad because essentially, as old hairs are falling out, new hairs are close behind. Similar to what happens when a baby tooth is lost and the new tooth is making room for its “pole” position.

Hair loss tends to peak to the point where a person may wonder if they will retain any hair at all. It’s not uncommon to develop bald patches especially over the ears and on the crown of the head. Some women notice more hair loss on one side than the other and feel they have to change their hairstyle to make the hair loss less obvious.

Generally, hair loss during pregnancy is only temporary; though it’s not uncommon for women to shed even more hair after their baby is born, particularly in the first six months. For many women though hair loss after their baby’s birth tends to peak at around four months and from then, hair follicles tend to rejuvenate.

Generally between 6-12 months after delivery the rate of hair growth returns to normal.

Other Explanations for Hair Loss

  • Thyroid imbalance
  • Iron deficiency and anaemia
  • Lack of adequate Vitamin B12
  • Inadequate Folic Acid intake
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Chemotherapy
  • Sudden shock which may have been physical or emotional

Women who are used to thick, long, wavy and dark hair tend to notice hair loss during pregnancy more than women with finer, fairer hair. Dark hair is obviously more noticeable as it sheds, frequently in the bathroom basin and the shower recess. Women with fine hair however, say they have less to lose and can become very alarmed when they see their hair thinning even more.

Very occasionally, the anagen cycle of hair growth is reset so that the growing phase becomes much shorter than it should be. And this is when a diagnosis of Telogen Effluvium may be made by a doctor. This is the excessive shedding of hair that can occurs one to five months following pregnancy. This is not uncommon, affecting somewhere between 40% to 50% of women; but like most changes during pregnancy, it is temporary.

In cases of chronic Telogen Effluvium, a professional assessment by a dermatologist is recommended following referral from a GP. Treatment for a diagnosis of Telogen Effluvium is not considered to be very beneficial. But this doesn’t stop some companies aiming to convince potential customers of the wonders of their latest product.

Generally Telogen Effluvium is self correcting, which means that with time and no specific treatment it will resolve itself.

And while we’re At It -What’s Happened to My Nails?

Hair and nail growth tend to be under the same influences. Changes to the hair are often replicated in a woman’s nails. Finger nails take around five months to grow from their base to the tip of the finger. Fingernails can show, sometimes very clearly, a groove known as “beau’s line”, which happened at the time when someone may have experienced a shock or trauma. Beau’s line occurs when the nail is still underneath the cuticle at the base from the nail fold. Of course most if not all of the nails are affected.

General Hair Loss During Pregnancy Facts

  • Some women find they don’t experience any hair changes during their pregnancy and some experience a lot.
  • Each pregnancy is unique; your experiences of hair changes during one pregnancy are not a prescription for subsequent pregnancies.
  • Hair follicles react differently to different compounds in shampoos and conditioners. During pregnancy, hair can become drier and lack its usual moisturising barrier. You may find you need to restore your hair’s body by using extra conditioner or leaving it on for longer.
  • Some women find that using shampoos and conditioners with Biotin and Silica help to maintain their hair’s body and thickness.
  • Many women find that by their third trimester of pregnancy, their hair is thicker than it has been for the previous two trimesters. But then again, some women don’t notice any difference.
  • During pregnancy there is a suppression of male hormones known as the androgens and these also influence hair volume. Less oil (sebum) is produced so the hair appears fuller with more bounce from the scalp rather than lying flat. This coupled with higher circulating oestrogen contributes to the appearance of having more hair.
  • Hair loss may be a sign of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It can also be a signal that the thyroid gland is underactive.
  • Women who experience psoriasis in their scalp can find that during pregnancy there is a general lessening of symptoms. And similarly, for women who are troubled by dandruff, pregnancy means a general improvement.

What You Can Do About Hair Loss During Pregnancy

The first thing to do is understand that the majority of women actually retain more hair than lose it during their pregnancy. This is because the usual shedding phase is more or less put “on hold” for the period of gestation. Some women who do experience greater than normal hair loss during pregnancy actually have a vitamin or mineral deficiency and need to be carefully assessed and then managed by a healthcare professional.

One major cause of hair loss during pregnancy is an underactive thyroid, which if left untreated, can cause long term problems with the baby. So if you are worried about hair loss during your pregnancy, check with your maternity care provider. They may order a range of blood tests, but importantly, a thyroid function test to specifically check for levels of your thyroid hormones and ensure they are within the normal range. If low, treatment is usually straightforward.

  • Check with your maternity care provider. You may need to have blood tests taken to ensure your thyroid is working normally.
  • Avoid styling your hair so that it pulls and creates a lot of unnecessary traction on your scalp. Ponytails, hard/tight braids, weaves and using tight hair rollers can all pull and create stress on the hair shaft.
  • Avoid over-brushing your hair and aim for styles which don’t require lots of maintenance.
  • Speak with your hairdresser about hairstyles which will make the most of your hair. Be open to their suggestions about what may suit you. Sometimes it takes another person’s perspective to give us insights into what would work well for us.
  • Eat a healthy and nutritious diet. Ensure your intake of green leafy vegetables is high as well as foods containing antioxidants and flavonoids – these help to maintain strong hair follicles and continual hair growth.
  • Avoid combing or brushing your hair when it is still wet.
  • Don’t use a fine tooth comb on your hair. Use a comb with wide teeth and/or a brush with soft bristles.
  • Avoid using a blow dryer if possible but if you have to, aim for a cooler rather than hot setting.
  • Towel dry your hair by patting the hair and scalp rather than vigorous rubbing.
  • Learn to love your curls! Avoid using a hair straightener if you are experiencing hair loss during pregnancy. Or save the straightener for special occasions.
  • Try using a different shampoo or conditioner to the one you’re used to.
  • A deep conditioning treatment may help if you are experiencing dry hair.

This article was written by Jane Barry, freelance parenting consultant, copywriter and director of www.mybabybaby.com.au

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