I see it asked about all the time on mom groups; "Help! After having my baby, my hair is falling out in clumps and I don't know what to do." Hair loss can be upsetting at the best of times, never mind at a time when a woman is often already struggling to find her footing as a new mom.
I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but I can share some personal fixes that have worked for me during my postpartum times when I have experienced hair loss.
First, it bears mentioning that the growth of hair is not continuous, but has it's own evolutionary cycle:
Anagen: Growth (lasts 2 - 6 years)
Catagen: Involution, blocking growth (lasts 2 - 3 weeks)
Telogen: Resting phase, when the hair shaft actually falls out (lasts 2 - 3 months)
The Anagen phase is stimulated by estrogen and this is why pregnancy is associated with that long, fast-growing, thick, shiny, luscious hair - because the high estrogen extends the Anagen phase. Once the baby is born, the many hairs previously in the anagen phase rapidly convert to the telogen phase, leading to large amounts of hair fall. The process usually begins 2-4 months after delivery and lasts for 3-6 months. Several theories exist for why this distressing phenomenon occurs. One theory suggests that the pituitary gland is not working as well after pregnancy because of the high levels of estrogen produced during pregnancy. Once estrogen levels fall at the end of pregnancy, the pituitary gland may need some adjustment time. Other factors such as physiological stresses such as blood loss, as well as the secretion of the hormone prolactin with nursing and psychological stresses such as high cortisol due to birth trauma.
While some don't find biotin, a water-soluble B vitamin also called vitamin H, vitamin B₇ or vitamin B₈, to make any difference, I have found biotin to be the single most useful nutrient in preventing hair loss. So much so that I can forget to take biotin one day and find my hair noticeably falling out the next. It's not entirely understood why biotin is helpful in this respect, with some speculating that it reduces inflammation. It also causes hair to become stronger at the shaft while reducing hair loss in the process.
The recommended daily intake of biotin has been established at 30 mcg per day. Milk, liver, egg yolk, yeast, and dried peas and beans are all food sources of biotin. I choose to take 5000 mcg per day during the postpartum time and, as mentioned above, biotin is a water soluble vitamin, meaning, if your body doesn't use it, you will just have expensive pee. Actually, not that expensive at all because biotin is a very cheap supplement - I can usually pick up a bottle of 60 5000 mcg capsules for around $10.
Not everyone metabolizes B vitamins the same and some people find they have an unpleasant reaction. Tune in when trying anything new and your body will literally tell you if the supplement is suitable for you to take by the little differences it communicates to your physiology and psychology.
Yep, that's right. I said it; the eating of one's own placenta. When I first heard about it while pregnant with my first baby, I was disgusted. D I S G U S T E D! It felt wrong. Then I experienced a very difficult postpartum and swore I would do anything in my power to avoid that a second time. It was so bad, I feared becoming pregnant again. Clearly, I did become pregnant again (and again with twins!), and one of the things I did differently the second and third time was secure someone to prepare my placenta in the Traditional Chinese Medicine method. I will write another blog delving deeper into the benefits and contraindications of placentophagy, but in short I immediately noticed a lift in my mood, a spring in my step, breastmilk that overfloweth and a continuation of the beautiful, thick, healthy hair I experienced in pregnancy. With that said, it was merely delaying the inevitable and when I eventually ran out of those magic placenta pills, I did experience a low mood and hair loss, but not as severe as the first time. I tracked down encapsulated sheep placenta, but it was not the same. Your placenta is made especially for you and your baby. I think the little daily doses of placenta gave my body a buffer to transition from pregnancy to postpartum more gracefully. If you are local, I offer placenta encapsulation using either the TCM method or the raw method because I stand so firmly behind this practice and have 100% seen the benefits for myself. Some people make placenta smoothies and the dried form can even be ground up and made into homemade chocolates or something more palatable, but I have always found the capsules to be the simplest and easiest to get down.
The physiology changes from pregnancy to pregnancy. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. In the Ayurvedic tradition, the postpartum time is referred to as a Kayakalpa, meaning it has the opportunity to be a time of rejuvenation when food is reintroduced in a way that the body's digestion can handle at that stage of recovery. Foods that were once tolerated may no longer be tolerated and vice versa. As good as that burger or lasagna might look immediately after giving birth, it might be wise to begin with soups and stews while gently working your way toward the heavier foods over the course of the next 40 days or so. My advice: don't turn down help. If someone gifts you food during your postpartum that doesn't feel like something you are quite ready to eat, lovingly accept it with gratitude and let your family enjoy it as this is still a huge help.
Though I am trained and available for the full spectrum of postpartum meal preparation, you don't have to eat exotic dishes you've never heard of before just to garner postpartum healing - there are plenty of dishes within our western sphere that can be used to heal and seal your gut too. I bet you can easily think of a few. Chicken broth is one. I reference the Ayurvedic tradition because I have done formal learning around Ayurvedic postpartum healing and our western culture has very little reference point for this tender time because we have long ago lost many of our own traditions.
If your body is reacting to foods that are causing inflammation, one symptom could be hair loss. Referring back to the life cycle of hair above, it is perfectly natural to lose hair after having a baby, but extreme cases might benefit from looking into sensitivities. Reducing or completely removing gluten from my diet has always resulted in less hair loss. Gluten is a common sensitivity but each individual may have their own sensitivities and overlaps. It may take some testing and/or deep listening to your body to identify them.
Red Light Therapy
Red light therapy is helpful for hair regrowth likely due to blood vessel dilation resulting in an increase of oxygen and nutrients to the area, an increase in mitochondrial energy production and it's anti-inflammatory effects. It even has been shown to thicken the diameter of the hair strand. Red and near-infrared light helps transition hair from the telogen phase back to the anagen phase and can help prolong the anagen phase. I offer complimentary red light therapy when paired with some of my other services. Thousands of studies have found it to be healing for the entire body.
Some say rosemary helps prevent hair loss and encourages hair growth by preventing scalp infections. Dilute before using if you choose to use a rosemary essential oil. You could also make an strong tea or infusion out of the fresh or dried herb, strain and apply that to your scalp.
Fenugreek seeds are often used as a treatment for hair loss and dandruff. Some evidence suggests that they may promote faster hair growth and stronger hair follicles. Make a fenugreek tea spray by soaking 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds in one cup overnight. Strain and pour into a spray bottle. Refrigerate any unused portion. A paste could also be applied.
This is an Ayurvedic medicinal oil that may help restore pigmentation to gray hair and reduce hair loss. It is also said to increase memory, promote hair growth and prevents hair damage.
Dimethyl sulfoxide or DMSO for short is a colorless liquid that was discovered in the late 19th century. It is said to have the "strength of the trees" from which it is derived. DMSO is an incredibly broad topic with so many uses including wound healing and pain relief. It deserves a coveted spot in every first aid kit, yet hardly anyone knows about it. As it relates to hair and scalp care, according to Morton Walker's book, "DMSO: Nature's Healer" it aids in regrowth and in some instances has restored the natural hair color after it has turned grey. One of the unique abilities of DMSO is that it can drive other substances deep into the tissues. That means that if you were to mix DMSO with any of the above topical scalp applications, you would have both the benefit of DMSO and the intensified effect of those applications. Please be aware that DMSO is a solvent and will breakdown several types of plastic and, in the process, inadvertently drive those plastic toxins into your tissue as well, so extreme caution is advised. Buy it in glass, dilute it or mix it with other substances in glass and be very careful about what you come in contact with such as chemical laden hair products, such as shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Also know that DMSO can cause your breath and/or skin to temporarily emit a fishy or garlicy odor. I know that sounds quite unattractive, but DMSO has its uses and, when used properly, it is an extremely powerful ally. I would personally not be without it for many reasons that are way beyond the scope of blog post about postpartum hair loss.
A Final Note
Fortunately, postpartum hair loss is self-limited and most often does not necessarily require any treatment. If it's not bothering you, it's ok to just ride it out. Most women will experience a full recovery from the hair loss although this may take up to 15 months.