Hair changes during and after pregnancy are very common. Although every woman is different, many experience luxurious, healthy hair when pregnant only to find that the opposite happens after birth – hair starts to fall and appears thin and wispy which can be quite distressing.
To understand what happens to our hair during and post pregnancy, we need to understand the hair growth cycle, or the lifecycle that human hair goes through from growth through to loss. Each strand of hair on the human body is at its own stage of development. Once the cycle is complete, it restarts and a new strand of hair begins to form.
The Hair Growth Cycle
There are three life phases that hair goes through: the anagen phase, the catagen phase and the telogen phase. Before we look at each phase, we need to understand the basic structure of hair.
The Structure of Hair
Hair is made up of two main parts: the hair follicle and the hair shaft.
The hair follicle is responsible for attaching the hair to the scalp and consists of the papilla and bulb. The bulb contains active cells which grow the hair around the papilla. The papilla provides the blood supply to the hair follicle so that it gets the nutrients that it needs for healthy hair growth.
The Anagen Phase
This is the growth period. During the Anagen Phase, cells in the hair bulb divide rapidly to create hair growth. Hair actively grows from the roots for anywhere between 2 – 7 years before the hair follicles become dormant.
The Catagen Phase
The Catagen phase is much shorter, lasting only 2-3 weeks. This is the transitional phase of the hair growth cycle. The hair stops growing and detaches itself from the blood supply. At this point, it’s referred to as a ‘club hair’.
The Telogen Phase
During this final stage, hair enters a resting period where club hairs ‘rest’ in the root while new hair starts to grow underneath it. The Telogen Phase lasts for around 3 months, after which time the resting club hairs will fall out to allow new growth to come through.
During pregnancy, hair stays in the anagen phase for longer due to the high levels of oestrogen in the body. This means that hair grows for a longer period than normal, resulting in full and luxurious ‘pregnancy hair’.
Hair Loss After Pregnancy
The scientific name for post pregnancy hair loss is telogen effluvium. After birth, there are more hairs in the resting phase of the hair cycle. It’s thought that hairs that were previously in the anagen, or growth phase, quickly convert to the telogen phase after birth. This leads to large amounts of hair fall. This shedding process usually starts around 3 months after birth and lasts for 3 - 6 months.
Most women fully recover from postpartum hair loss, although it can take up to 15 months. During this time it’s really important to look after yourself properly as poor nutrition, lack of sleep and stress can contribute to poor hair regrowth in new mums.