Julia Lipscombe, with her son Indiana in their Edmonton home on Feb. 2, 2017, noticed a few strands of hair fall from her head about three and a half months after her son was born.
“Thinking about getting pregnant again so that my hair stops falling out.”
It was an innocent Facebook post a few months ago. And, for the record, I’m not recommending that.
The post was just a joke that I thought would make a couple of people smile. But it ended up being one of the most popular mom-related things I’ve ever put on social media.
The women in my larger Internet circle really wanted to talk about their hair falling out. And mostly, it seemed, this was one of those things they hadn’t been prepared for.
Personally, I’d heard about the glossy, shiny and thick hair you’re supposed to acquire during pregnancy. I hadn’t been aware, however, that after you give birth you will be leaving a trail of DNA behind you everywhere you go.
My hair loss went something like this.
At three-and-a-half months postpartum, I noticed a few strands of my almost chin-length bob coming out in my hands in the shower. It wasn’t gradual — from that moment on, I couldn’t touch my hair without several coming loose.
There are a few different causes for postpartum hair-loss, said Dr. Jonathan Tankel, an obstetrician gynecologist working at the Hys Centre and the University of Alberta’s University Health Centre.
“By far, the most common cause is called telogen effluvium. There’s different phases of hair development — there’s a growth phase, and a resting phase. (In this case), the resting phase, where you lose the hair, tends to be accelerated and the growth phase is decreased.”
Telogen effluvium isn’t exclusive to women who’ve given birth, and can also occur when someone has had major stress, a major surgery or has nutritional deficiencies, for example.
There are two types of this condition — acute, the kind most women will experience after childbirth, and chronic.
“The acute type will usually occur in the first few weeks or months after childbirth and most people will start regrowing their hair by a year or a year-and-a-half afterward,” said Tankel.
In other words, most people shouldn’t stress too much about it.
But how much hair loss is too much?
“If someone is having hair-loss that is ongoing for more than a year, it’s worth seeing their primary care physician, just to make sure there’s no other cause. For example, we would generally check people’s blood count, we would check their iron.”
He also suggests seeking help from a family doctor or dermatologist if the hair loss is causing psychological distress, or if it’s showing cosmetically.
I was pretty lucky.
The shedding slowed down by five-and-a-half months postpartum, and by six months it had altogether stopped. My hair is not noticeably thinner.
But, there’s another thing they don’t tell you about — regrowth.
My now legitimately chin-length, curly brown bob is accented by a ring of short, copper-brown curls that stick out around my face like a crown — including new short sideburns. I love curly hair, but the inconsistency is pretty funny.
When I wear my hair down, it looks like I have a tangled nest around my head before my regular hair starts. And when it’s up, I have a sort of Orphan Annie thing going on. My hairstylist, Quinn, is able to straighten and therefore hide the tiny hairs when I see her for special events, but I can’t do it at home for everyday.
On the grand scale of life’s annoyances, this is tiny and insignificant. Hair grows back. I joked to my mom friends that I’m paying more attention to wearing cute outfits so that people don’t look at my mane. Ball caps have become my best friend.
I wonder though, is there anything I could have done to be proactive? To stop the shed in the first place? Can I make my little wisps grow faster? My original Facebook post resulted in plenty of tips that some of my friends swore by. But I’m skeptical about most miracle beauty cures.
Tankel suggests that supplementing with iron might make a difference, but is uncertain about other remedies. “Some studies showed that taking extra iron — even if the iron levels weren’t low to begin with — could make a difference.
“There are other supplements that people use. For example, some people use zinc, some people use biotin, some people use vitamin D. But there’s no clear proof that they work. I can’t say that (they definitely don’t work), but I’m not aware of any clear evidence that they do.”
Vance Elliott, of the Advanced Hair and Cosmetic Medicine and Surgery Clinic, agrees.
“There’s no harm in taking biotin, but it doesn’t do anything,” he said. “But there is also treatment that does work.”
Like Tankel, Elliott suggests that postpartum women experiencing hair loss for a year should see a doctor. And if you’re worried about it, he said, there’s no harm in seeing a doctor before then.
“If they’re concerned that their hair isn’t going back to normal or is continuing to thin, they should have it looked at. I don’t like the idea that treatment gets delayed for someone just because it gets chalked up to, ‘This is what happens after babies’.”
Elliott said that significant, prolonged hair-loss after childbirth can, in some cases, be the onset of female pattern hair loss.
“If someone genetically has inherited the genes that predisposes them to female pattern hair-loss, sometimes pregnancy or their series of pregnancies can be what kicks that off.”
If you’ve seen your physician and determined your hair loss is outside of the postpartum norm, there are two main medical treatments that are effective, said Elliott.
“Minoxidil, which is also on the market as the brand name Rogaine, which is a topical medicine. And low-level laser therapy, which is not medication. It’s a laser modality that’s applied to the scalp externally.”
You can undergo laser therapy while breastfeeding, said Elliott. But the safety of Minoxidil during breastfeeding is not known and Elliott recommends discussing either option with an obstetrician or family doctor first if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
For most of us, though, the worst things we’ll have to deal with is a drain full of hair and all that pesky regrowth.
“It’s a normal thing,” said Tankel. “In the vast majority of people, the hair will come back.”
In the meantime, it’s summer — invest in a good floppy hat.