Very little research has been done about how Black hair uniquely responds to pregnancy but parents-to-be know it’s happening.
During pregnancy, the body undergoes significant transformations, including changes in the senses of taste and smell, as well as hormonal fluctuations that lead to mood swings and nausea. Even the hair goes through a transition of its own. According to Dr. Chanelle Nsangou Njoya, a doctorate-prepared board-certified nurse midwife, it is typical for pregnant individuals to notice changes in their hair. These changes may include thicker and faster hair growth and alterations in texture and shine.
The reason for this transformation is primarily attributed to exceedingly elevated amounts of estrogen, progesterone, prolactin, and growth hormones during pregnancy. According to Dr. Njoya, the extended phase of hair growth is caused by estrogen, which leads to a reduction in hair loss. Additionally, hair growth is not restricted to the scalp, as some women may encounter hair growth in less desirable regions such as the face, chest, belly, and arms.
As per Dr. Njoya, during pregnancy, estrogen plays a major role in affecting hair growth. However, progesterone also has a significant impact as it acts as a vasodilator, which helps in enhancing blood flow and improving the nutrition and support of hair. This improved blood circulation leads to fuller hair growth.
During pregnancy, Black individuals who are giving birth may experience unexpected changes in the texture of their hair due to hormonal shifts. These changes can include a shift from 4a hair to 3b hair, resulting in looser curls. Additionally, some people may struggle to retain moisture in their hair during pregnancy, which means they must relearn how to manage their hair and adjust to the changing curl pattern. As a result, it is common for Black parents-to-be to try new hair products and develop a new hair maintenance routine that works with their new hair texture.
However, certain pregnant individuals have reported adverse alterations such as parchedness, reduction in volume or breakage. Dr. Njoya explains that this could be due to a reduction in estrogen caused by discontinuing the oral contraceptive pill or hormonal imbalance. It is crucial to note that every Black woman’s pregnancy journey is unique and may vary. Dr. Njoya emphasizes that while hormonal fluctuations are significant, personal lifestyle choices, including hydration, nutrition, and underlying health issues, also contribute to the experience.
The act of delivering a baby can cause a great deal of stress on the body, potentially leading to hair loss. This stress can be particularly intense if medical procedures like surgery are involved. After the baby and placenta are born, the body experiences a rapid decrease in estrogen levels, which were initially present to support the development of the baby.
According to Dr. Njoya, Black women may face additional changes in the postpartum period, as their hormone levels return to pre-pregnancy levels. This can result in postpartum telogen effluvium, which is characterized by hair loss once the hair follicles have completed their resting phase and begin to shed. Due to the stagnant growth phase of hair follicles, it may seem like there is excessive hair loss, which is more than the usual 100 hairs that are expected to be lost per day. This shedding typically starts around three months after birth.
The positive aspect is that these alterations are not expected to be long-lasting. According to Dr. Njoya, “typically, hair should recover its pre-pregnancy state and resume normal growth within 12 months after breastfeeding is finished.” However, she cautions that if hair loss or other unfavorable hair transformations persist beyond the anticipated period, “it is crucial for the woman to seek advice from her healthcare provider to rule out any underlying health issues.”
While it’s normal for hair to go through changes during pregnancy, there are steps that expectant mothers can take to ensure their hair remains healthy during this time and beyond. Dr. Njoya emphasizes the importance of a balanced and nutritious diet that includes an ample amount of vitamins, minerals, and protein, such as iron, fatty acids, and Vitamin D. Black women are more prone to deficiencies in iron and Vitamin D, both of which can lead to hair loss and alterations in hair texture, resulting in dryness, brittleness, and lackluster appearance.
To encourage the growth of hair, Dr. Njoya suggests consuming a variety of foods like leafy greens, whole grains, salmon, avocado, eggs, nuts, and berries. She also emphasizes the importance of staying hydrated by drinking ample amounts of water. In addition, Dr. Njoya recommends avoiding high-fat and high-sugar foods during pregnancy as they can cause hormonal imbalances that may result in hair loss.
During pregnancy, it is crucial to be careful with certain products and chemicals. Dr. Njoya advises staying away from or limiting the use of hair products that contain phthalates, parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, triclosan, propylene glycol, or any substances that can overload the hair. It’s also advisable to avoid chemicals like hair dye, highlight, or relaxers since there remains little research on their effects on hair during pregnancy. Dr. Njoya adds that these chemicals can be soaked up through the scalp and transferred to the baby. If a pregnant woman can’t do without these chemicals, it’s best to, at the very least, avoid using them during the first trimester when the baby’s body systems and major organs are developing.
Chemical hair relaxers are highly favored by Black women, mainly because of societal pressures that stigmatize coarse, curly hair and uphold smooth, straight hair as the ideal. However, a study conducted in 2022 uncovered that the use of these hair relaxers may raise the chances of developing uterine cancer, which is the most prevalent cancer of the female reproductive system. Moreover, they can cause significant hormonal imbalances.
A concerning study conducted in 2018 found that hair relaxing products have undisclosed chemicals, with almost 85% of them undetected on the label. This puts the health of Black women at risk, especially pregnant women who may face unknown risks for themselves and their unborn child.Dr. Njoya emphasizes that every woman’s body is different and reacts differently during pregnancy, regardless of how their hair changes. Therefore, maintaining balance through a healthy lifestyle and diet or hormones is crucial.