Pregnancy is transformative in many ways. Mood swings, body changes, and powerful cravings (ice cream and pickles, anyone?) are some notable highlights of carrying a tiny human, but it doesn’t stop there. One of the least discussed topics is how it can affect your natural hair.
Pregnancy hormones can alter the texture, pattern, and style of your curls subtly or drastically due to the estrogen levels in your body. There are varying degrees to which a woman’s hair can change during her pregnancy. Some people may experience thicker, shinier, fuller hair due to increased estrogen, and others may experience hair loss, dry scalp, or a greasy scalp. There is no clear-cut science that can determine your trajectory one way or the other.
Some women with natural hair find themselves on either end of the spectrum, emphasizing how unique pregnancy is to everyone. Still, it helps when you know you aren’t alone as your body changes. Ahead, we spoke to women with natural hair and an OB-GYN about how their curls changed during pregnancy and beyond.
How Pregnancy Affects Your Hair
According to board-certified OB-GYN Dr. Kerry Anne Perkins, various hormones in the female body affect hair during pregnancy. “Many women rave at how thick and full their hair becomes during pregnancy and are often disappointed after pregnancy where they experience hair loss,” Dr. Perkins says. “While it is normal for this cycle to occur, the changes in hair growth and thickness are due to an increase in hormones like estrogen, progesterone, hCG, insulin-like growth factor, prolactin, and others.” Dr. Perkins explains that, during this time, hair stays in the growth phase longer than when you are not pregnant.
On the flipside, hormone fluctuations during the postpartum period may spark more changes. “A process called postpartum telogen effluvium (stage of hair growth that occurs explicitly during the postpartum period) occurs, and hair loss ensues,” Dr. Perkins explains. “A person’s hormone levels return to baseline before pregnancy.”
However, in the postpartum period, when the hormones make that switch, the hair follicles all go into a resting phase simultaneously, and shortly afterward, hair loss occurs.” Dr. Perkins says that this cycle can last up to (and beyond) 12 months after breastfeeding ends. “While we cannot alter the biological changes in hormone levels, know that hair growth and hair loss during this time is not permanent,” Dr. Perkins says. “Your normal growth pattern will return.”
Although we can’t control our hormones, Dr.Perkins says that nourishing your body from the inside out during this time can help preserve the overall health of your hair. “Foods that include eggs, spinach, avocado, berries, fatty fish, nuts, and sweet potatoes are great for encouraging hair growth,” she says. “Use fewer hair products with parabens, phthalates, petroleum jelly, polyethylene glycol, benzene, or hair products that weigh your hair down.” Dr. Perkins also recommends considering protective hairstyles that don’t tug on your hair follicles or opting for shorter haircuts if you’re open to it.
“I didn’t expect my hair to change during pregnancy, and I assumed even if it did change, no one would notice because it’s so curly, and I was wrong. My curls changed for the better and were more defined, bouncier, and much shinier. On some days, my hair felt much thicker and more difficult to style than usual. My pre-pregnancy routine didn’t consist of much more than a gel for definition, but I needed to incorporate a lightweight leave-in during pregnancy since dryness was more prevalent. Otherwise, I also try to make sure to take a hair vitamin of sorts to get ahead of postpartum shedding.”
“My hair changed drastically during my pregnancy. It was incredibly dry, and there was more breakage than usual. My holy grail was Shea Moisture Manuka Honey Intensive Hydration Hair Masque, which is still part of my routine. Saturating my hair with this treatment at least once a week was a great way to lock in moisture. I made it a priority to maintain a trim and layered cut to add definition to my hair.
“I took prenatal vitamins daily and well into my postpartum cycle, which I’d like to think helped maintain some thickness. When I gave birth to my daughter eight years ago, I experienced mild hair loss. So, with this recent pregnancy, I was also intentional about wearing protective styles and avoiding hot tools. Now, a few months postpartum, my hair is incredibly healthy and long because I took these extra steps.”
“I didn’t experience any significant differences with my hair texture or curl pattern during pregnancy. I’ve kept my regimen low maintenance, and I have noticed a few inches of hair growth during these past few months. I’ve been uninspired to do my hair on most days, and since I work from home, getting knotless braids was one of my best decisions. A few products I used while wearing braids were Sunday2Sunday Refresh, Canviiy ScalpBliss to combat dandruff and itchiness, and Aunt Jackie’s Curls & Coils Frizz Patrol Mousse to keep the curly ends defined.”