When I became pregnant, I wasn’t ready for this: glossy, model-ready hair and glowing, poreless skin.
Four months after I had my baby, it was a different story: I swear I saw a bald patch near my hairline from all the hair that was falling out, and my skin was back to its usual oily self, every pore proudly visible.
“Thicker hair, skin changes, stronger nails—the hormonal milieu that happens during pregnancy causes all those changes,” said Dr. Renee Page, an ob/gyn at Augusta University Health. “Then, it’s usually around three to six months postpartum when we see changes again as hormone levels change.”
‘I’m Losing All My Hair!’
It’s part of the magic of pregnancy: Our hair skips its shedding phase, which means our hair is more lustrous and thick than it’s ever been before.
And it has nothing to do with taking prenatal vitamins, even though hairstylists, friends, and popular culture might say it does.
“Unfortunately,” said Page, “once you have your baby, your hair goes into a slightly accelerated shedding phase.”
In other words, all that hair you kept for nine months starts falling out—fast—starting at around three to six months.
If you started birth control again to keep from getting pregnant, don’t worry: Your hair loss isn’t because of that. “No matter what, after we have a baby, we reset and start that shedding phase,” said Page. “Some women don’t see it happen until after they’re done with breastfeeding, some see it happen sooner. Every woman is different in that respect, and it can take up to a year to get back to your normal hair cycle.”
At the same time, don’t wait to talk to your doctor if you feel like you’re losing too much hair. “If it starts three to four weeks after giving birth or goes on for more than a month or you feel like there are literally clumps of hair falling out, it’s completely appropriate to get a workup to check for low thyroid or certain hormonal changes,” said Page.
Your doctor will also check your diet, any medications, as well as over-the-counter medications or other products you might be using.
“Stress is also a huge factor for hair,” said Page. “Obviously, the postpartum period is incredibly stressful, and that part is where I would really try to work with mom and her support system and make sure that she’s getting all the support she needs.”
‘My skin is just awful!’
Some women have better skin during pregnancy; for others, it’s worse or the same. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, women with acne should avoid using Accutane, retinol or retinoid products, although benzoyl peroxide is OK. “Still, most women don’t have many skin changes, even for women who had a skin condition before,” said Page.
During the postpartum period, the hormone progesterone predominates over estrogen, which can mean dry skin. Drinking plenty of water—particularly if you’re breastfeeding—is a must. And especially during winter months, new mothers should make a point of protecting their skin barrier by using cream moisturizers. “Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize,” said Page. “I tell everybody that after a shower, before you dry off, use a moisturizer on your skin that’s as natural as possible—not high in chemicals—that you wouldn’t mind having your baby next to.”
Dry skin can also literally be everywhere on your body. “Because of the hormonal changes, you can also experience vaginal dryness,” said Page, “which we can treat with an estrogen cream.”
Say you had the best skin of your life during pregnancy? It’s more than likely because of the steady course of hormones during pregnancy that allowed your skin to normalize. If you aren’t wanting to have a baby again—at least for a while—taking an estrogen-progesterone combined birth control pill can help you regain that perfect skin.
Chemical treatments for hair. “One common question I get is about relaxers for African American women and highlights for everybody,” said Page. No evidence has yet shown any danger to baby during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, but mothers who are concerned can choose to wait to use these products.
Nail polish. Polishing nails is entirely safe. But Page has a piece of advice. If you visit a salon to get nails done, make sure to go in the morning. “The gases that come off nail polish are solvents and settle in the air,” she said, which is why salon workers often wear masks. “They are more predominant at the end of the day than at the beginning of the day. So the best time to get a salon treatment—for any of us—is at the beginning of the day.”
Worried? Talk To Your Doctor
Most postpartum changes happen around three to six months, and it may take up to a year for a woman to feel like her skin and hair are back to normal. Some women also report that skin and hair are just different after pregnancy—more dry or more oily or more sensitive.
But if you’re worried that something’s not right—say you’re seeing skin and hair changes as soon as six weeks or the changes seem extreme, go ahead and talk to your doctor, says Page.
“Even though changes can still be happening up to a year or more, we never want to wait that long to do a workup, especially if you feel like something’s wrong,” said Page.