Why do most women enjoy luscious locks during pregnancy only to suffer major fall-out post birth? Health writer Paulette Crowley investigates.
Pregnancy certainly offers a fair share of challenges (think nausea, constantly needing to pee, tiredness and many limitations on diet and sleep) but it also rewards. And I’m not just talking about the baby at the end.
I am referring to that glow pregnant women can have – that lush, ripe quality that nature bestows upon many mums-to-be. In particular, I am talking about hair – beautiful, thick luscious locks. I tossed mine about with abandon, absolutely thrilled to have something to show off as my waistline disappeared and my wardrobe gradually shrunk to a pair of black leggings, two smocks and some jandals. Yes, I had a mane. I loved it and revelled in every day being a good hair day.
It fell out a few months after I gave birth. I cried as my hair practically leapt from my scalp in great chunks, clogging my shower in the process. It was a tragic injustice in light of a road map of stretch marks, sleep deprivation (thanks, reflux) and a fair few extra kilograms that refused to budge.
Why do we gain then lose hair?
Hair has growing, resting and shedding phases and trichologist Nigel Russell from Holistic Hair says these hair loss cycles are interrupted by pregnancy.
“A fairly high percentage of women’s hair will go into the growing stage and not go into the resting stage when pregnant. That means they’re gaining more hair than they usually would in a normal hair cycle,” Nigel explains.
So when hair inevitably enters its shedding stage – which usually happens about three or four months after giving birth – the amount that is lost seems rather dramatic in light of the extra that has grown during pregnancy.
“They’re losing nine months’ worth of growth in a period of two to three months, so it seems quite dramatic when it happens,” says Nigel.
Most hair loss or changes in hair health, such as hair becoming thin, brittle or lifeless, can be put down to changes in the body. And of course, pregnancy is one of the biggest changes a female body will go through in a relatively short space of time.
“The hair is the barometer for someone’s wellbeing,” says Nigel. “Quite often there’ll be something that has changed that the person isn’t aware of, but their hair is starting to show the signs.”
Other changes that commonly affect hair loss include surgery and changes in diet, stress and medications, such as a long-term treatment of antibiotics.
“What the body likes is routine, so if you’re changing it every five minutes the body gets upset.”
Good health is key to good hair
So what can you do, besides never changing or not having a baby?
A good diet, excellent sleep and TLC are critical says Nigel, who recommends taking a good women’s multi-vitamin, especially during breastfeeding. Other supplements such as zinc and iron (if you’re deficient) can help too, but should only be taken after medical advice.
It’s prudent to check your overall health – especially your liver and thyroid functions – to rule out any other causes of hair loss.
Nigel also recommends volumising products, which can be effective in creating the illusion of more hair and make fine hair much more manageable.
Paulette Crowley is a health journalist who lives on Waiheke Island with her two children.