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After the Baby: Secrets to Thicker, Healthier Hair

Your baby is 3 months old, and you're finally looking thinner and more rested—but your curls have collapsed and you're losing locks by the handful. Welcome to life with postpartum hair. The good news? The problems are temporary, and there are easy ways to pump up volume and luster while your locks return to normal. (In fact, these tricks can help any woman have thicker, lovelier hair.)

Why the strange changes? During pregnancy, most women shed little or no hair because the body's suppression of androgens (male hormones) has the neat side effect of prolonging hair's growth phase. This hormonal change can also halt the production of sebum (oil). So by the last trimester, many women sport a mane that's more abundant than ever, with a slightly different texture. Fine, limp hair can seem fuller, because it's not weighed down by as much sebum; for the same reason, wavy hair may seem curlier and drier.

But once the baby's born, androgen production—along with shedding—resumes. Hair that normally would have fallen out during the previous nine months tends to start coming out now—with a vengeance. Doctors call this "telogen effluvium," and it can mean temporarily losing between 10 and 30 percent of your hair.

By the time your baby's about 6 months old, new hair growth replaces whatever was lost. This is when some women say their hair suddenly becomes grayer or more wiry. "That's because changes in color or texture, which might have been imperceptible over the course of a year, have been compressed into a shorter and more noticeable timespan," says Howard Murad, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA.

During this growing-in phase, it may be tempting to try one of the dozens of supposed remedies for thinning hair. Some of them claim to optimize new growth by increasing circulation in the scalp (which you can do with frequent gentle shampooing and massage); others slightly increase hair-shaft circumference so that whatever hair there is seems fuller, if only for a short time. You definitely don't need a pricey product like minoxidil. "Remember," says Dr. Murad, "your hair is going to grow back naturally, on its own."