It was Halloween, and I was spending yet another sleepless night on my couch in front of the television. Five months into my pregnancy with my first child, I was already discovering my little one’s marked preference for nighttime games of kickball inside my ever-expanding belly. While watching a marathon of old 1930s horror movies on a classic movie channel, a sudden apparition arrested me. There was Elsa Lancaster in the Bride of Frankenstein, newly awakened by her master, her hair looking like she had just run her wet fingers through an electrical outlet. Later, as I stared at my own mirrored reflection, I thought, “I could have played her stand-in!”
How Pregnancy Affects Your Hair
Pregnancy brings a great deal of hormonal changes to a woman’s body. This steady fluctuation of hormonal levels is known to cause emotional and physical transformations, most commonly taking a toll on the hair of both moms-to-be and new moms.
Although these changes are only temporary and generally subside well after a postpartum period, they come at a woman’s most vulnerable and emotionally fragile time when she may want and need to look good. If you too are wondering what’s normal and what’s not, here are some answers to common pregnancy haircare questions.
Why the Changes?
Any changes in the estrogen hormonal balance, such as those brought about by the use of birth control pills (or other hormonal birth control), weaning from the breast, a miscarriage, abortion, or an imbalance of the estrogen hormone, can affect a person’s hair.
According to the March of Dimes, when you’re not pregnant, the hairs on your head grow in a regular cycle. Each individual hair grows about one-half inch per month for anywhere from two to six years. Then hair enters a “resting” phase for two to three months. After which, it gradually falls out (generally when you brush or wash it) and makes way for new hair to grow in.
Thicker Hair: During pregnancy, it is believed that high estrogen levels extend the “anagen” or growth phase of the hair, while slowing down the “telogen” or resting phase to where hair that would normally have been shed continues to rest.
This explains why some expectant mothers experience thicker, more luxurious hair, while others find that their previously manageable hair is growing totally out of control.
Oily or Frizzy Hair: Depending on your personal genetic make up, during pregnancy your oil-producing glands may either speed up or slow down production in accordance with your hormonal changes—causing otherwise straight hair to suddenly become wavy or previously dry hair to now be oily.
Sometimes, help from your local stylist along with a little beauty product investigation on your part can help you, too, survive this hair-raising “side-effect” of pregnancy!
Hair Coloring during Pregnancy
There is a great deal of controversy about coloring or perming hair during pregnancy. Most experts advise expectant women not to undergo any chemical processes that may undermine their own or their baby’s health, especially during the first trimester. As a result, most stylists recommend that clients seek out their OB-GYN’s advice before undergoing any chemical hair procedures.
There are natural, vegetable-based dyes that can be used as a substitute to synthetic chemicals. Pure henna, which comes in a variety of colors, is a classic example—but be wary. Many products that claim to be “all natural” may contain the same chemicals that are found in brand name permanent hair dyes, so be sure to check out all the ingredients prior to use.
To Perm or Not to Perm?
Pregnant women’s forums abound with moms-to-be expressing concerns about perming their hair. One mom sums it up saying, “I hear that hair responds unpredictably under the influence of pregnancy hormones; a perm might not take at all, or might result in an unflattering frizz instead of bouncy waves.” In addition to this concern, the chemical solutions used in perms are absorbed through the scalp into the bloodstream, and raise questions for many moms-to-be about the safety of their use during pregnancy.
The jury is still out on whether or not perming your hair during pregnancy can harm your unborn baby, but one thing many doctors do agree on is this: Wait until after your first trimester before undergoing any chemical hair treatment.
If you decide to take the risk of perming your hair after the first trimester, be sure to ask your salon if they can do a test first on a strip of your hair to see if the perm will “take” before you pay to have your whole head in curls.
Choosing Haircare Products for Moms-to-Be
Sometimes all that your hair may need is a little pick-me-up; switching shampoo or conditioner during your pregnancy may be the key. Today, there are even companies, mainstream and those found at health food stores and co-ops, that cater to expectant women or offer special lines of popular products modified to better suit moms-to-be.
Postpartum Hair Loss
Now that your baby has finally found a way into your arms, you may be gleefully rejoicing that you’ve finally touched home base and are well on the way to recovering your pre-pregnancy body. Think again! Your postpartum shampoos may reserve yet another surprise: hair loss in handfuls or dismaying clumps, raising an immediate panic about going bald.
Relax. This, too, is perfectly normal. After delivery, your sky-rocketing estrogen levels are trying to inch (or gallop!) their way back down into normal patterns. Postpartum hair loss is relatively common and is caused by hair staying in a resting, telogen phase thanks to your pregnancy estrogen levels. Once your baby is born, high estrogen subsides creating a seemingly alarming hair loss that you may experience over the next four months. The magic word here is temporary. According to the American Pregnancy Association, the lost hair will usually be replaced within six to twelve months.
Whether your hair has suddenly turned brittle, dry, or is quite literally falling out, what else can you do to stop it—and your world—from falling apart?
- Check your diet and hormones. In her book, Pregnancy for Dummies, co-author Joanne Stone, MD and OB-GYN at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, affirms that temporary hair loss is hormonal and doesn’t mean that a pregnant woman is deficient in nutrition or vitamins.
That said, as with most pregnancy-related symptoms, you should check with your doctor to ensure you’re getting a proper balance of hormones and a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and minerals. Certain vegetables and minerals contain flavonoids—antioxidants which may encourage hair growth while providing protection for your hair follicles. The American Academy of Dermatology lists low serum iron deficiency, or inadequate absorption of iron, and inadequate protein in the diet as only two of many potential causes for hair loss.
The American Pregnancy Association recommends several nutrients that your doctor can help you supplement and/or fit into your diet based on your specific needs and situation, such as vitamin B complex, biotin, inositol, vitamin C with bioflavonoids, coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, zing, horsetail, pygeum, and saw palmetto.
- Avoid hairstyles that pull on your hair, such as ponytails, weaves, and tight braids.
- Avoid overly hot hair dryers and/or styling implements (including irons and hot rollers). Riccardo Maggiore, renowned celebrity hairstylist and the owner of the Riccardo Maggiore Salon in Manhattan, recommends, “If possible, you should let your hair air dry instead of blow drying it.”
- Avoid daily shampoos since these remove your hair’s natural oils and may aggravate the dryness. Most stylists claim that two or three weekly shampoos are sufficient to remove excess build-up of dirt and particles. Use shampoos and conditioners that contain biotin and silica (both help strengthen hair).
- Be gentle when handling wet hair, as it’s more liable to tear, break, or become even more brittle. Wide-toothed combs and brushes with smooth tips may be gentler on your scalp, as will conditioner that helps untangle without pulling.
Finally, before you haul those shears out of your closet and decide to tackle your locks in desperation, try for a new style. Avoid going too short as this sometimes means more, rather than less, maintenance (and remember, time will become a scarce commodity once you give birth).
If you’re concerned about weight gain, longer hair may help camouflage any excessive weight around your facial features, softening your looks; and layering may help give your hair a fuller look.
A professional stylist can help you find a look that will help you feel your best as you enter one of the most wondrous stages in a woman’s life: motherhood.