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Post-Pregnancy Hair Changes

Post-Pregnancy Hair Changes

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I discovered your pregnancy calendar when I was pregnant with my daughter, and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m hoping you can help me with a hair issue.

I have naturally brown hair, and started getting blond highlights a few months ago. This isn’t my first time getting highlights, but it had been a couple of years since I had them, so my hair was pretty healthy going in.

Now my hair is fried. Not just run-of-the-mill post-highlight dry hair, but straight-up straw. Like, seriously, I could be a stunt double for a scarecrow.

Ok, that was a slight exaggeration, because not all of my hair is fried, but there are pieces throughout that are truly straw like and that have lost about 2 inches of length due to breakage. To make matters worse, my hair is already fairly short, so I don’t really have the option of cutting off the damaged portions. I have an above the shoulder bob, so to cut any more I’d basically have to be bald.

I talked to my colorist about this (this was the third time she has highlighted my hair) and all she said was that I should deep condition. I am deep conditioning once a week, using Pureology shampoo and conditioner, and I only wash my hair about 3x per week, although I do use dry shampoo between washes. I also rarely blow dry, and flatiron on a medium setting (any lower isn’t effective). Skipping the flatiron isn’t really an option, because my hair is very frizzy if not heat styled, and I need to look professional for work. I do use a heat protecting spray before flat ironing.

The thing is, I know that this damage is from the color, not my styling habits (although I’m sure the heat isn’t helping) and I also know that this isn’t normal for highlighted hair. I mean, I know that some damage is normal, but I’ve gotten my hair highlighted off and on since I was in my early 20s and I’ve never had this degree of damage. So my question is 2 parted: first, what else can I do to treat my hair? And also, should I switch colorists? I really like my colorist, but I kinda think she should have offered to do a deep conditioning treatment or something. Maybe my expectations are out of line? If you or your readers can help, I would be greatly appreciated!

Everything is better deep fried, except hair!

HAAAAAAIR! Oh wow, it’s been awhile since we talked about hair. But it’s summer and it’s unbearably hot and some of the questions lined up in the queue right now are all unbearably heavy and serious.

So yes, it sounds like the highlights caused the damage. Highlights are permanent hair color, with lots of ammonia, so even perfectly mixed and executed highlights have the potential to damage your hair over time. But not usually to the degree you’re describing. And for it to happen all at once, after one specific coloring session, suggests (to me) that your colorist mixed them incorrectly or left the dye on too long. And then didn’t want to admit her mistake and tried to deflect blame on your styling habits. (Which sound just fine. Not perfect, but totally real-world fine.)

But there is another possibility: Your hair is different now than it was in your 20s, thanks to hormonal/pregnancy changes, and simply isn’t cut out for regular highlights anymore.

In my early 30s, I switched from getting permanent blond highlights to a semi-permanent (ammonia free), single process red color. Partly because I was bored and wanted a dramatic change, but also because the highlights were killing my fine, thin hair. I’d been pregnant two times by then, and had been coloring my hair on and off since 16 years old when my natural color went from blond to the color of a used dishrag. I don’t know if the damage was increasing due to time, age or hormones. Or all of the above. The semi-perm color actually adds some thickness and moisture to my hair, and as long as I don’t slack on the occasional deep conditioning treatment, things stay pretty healthy and shiny. Relatively speaking, anyway. My fine, breakable hair has never been and never will be all Breck-Girl fantastic, but hey. We all do our best with what we have, right?

(Also, yeah, anyone who follows my blog or Instagram: I switched back to blond highlights a couple weeks ago. Absolutely hated them. Went back this weekend and got the semi-perm red put back over them and feel like myself again. I’m so ridiculous.)

So I don’t know where the blame fully lies here — I’ve never had a post-highlights reaction as bad as the one you’re describing, so I am DEEPLY SUSPICIOUS that your colorist did something wrong. On the other hand, who the hell knows with hair and hormones and all that jazz. At the very least, I TOTALLY agree that you should have been offered a complimentary conditioning treatment. So maybe start shopping around for someone new, if you want. I’d recommend finding someone who specializes in color correction, who could maybe do some semi-permanent trickery for a few months while your hair recovers. (Obviously you do not want to put more permanent dye on your hair right now, but I know living with fried hair AND growing-out highlights and roots probably isn’t a combination you’re jazzed about.)

But now for the important part: WHAT TO DO NOW. OMG. HOW TO FIX.

Yes, the heat styling isn’t helping, but I get that it’s one of those things most of us just have to do. I’ve always believed that flat irons are much more damaging than blow-drying your hair straight, though I guess that’s debatable. Science?  Heat is heat, but blow-drying your hair correctly (round brush, roots to tip, constant steady downward air a few inches away) seems gentler than subjecting the entire length directly to a hot iron. Maybe try practicing your blow dry technique and see if you can tame the frizz that way. Or switch your heat protecting spray for a serum or cream that will penetrate and coat a little better.

Now we need to talk deep conditioning. You mention Pureology so I assume you’re talking about one of their hair masques/treatments when it comes to your once-a-week deep conditioning. (If I’m wrong and you’re just leaving a regular conditioner on for longer than usual, that probably isn’t enough.) I’ve tried Pureology, L’Oreal and LUSH hair masques and they are quite nice and leave my hair super soft. BUT when it comes to “repairing” severely damaged hair, I think they tend to overpromise and underdeliver. Sometimes hair just can’t be repaired, no matter how much money you throw at it. The masques will nourish the new growth, however, and hopefully speed up the dreaded growing-out process.

If you don’t have one of those masques I mentioned already, I still wouldn’t recommend you rush out and buy one. A classic VO5 Hot Oil therapy will cost about a fraction of the price of the fancy salon versions and work just about as well. But you honestly don’t even need to get that! Go to the grocery store and hit up the cooking oil section. Coconut oil is DIVINE for dry, breaking hair. It solidifies in the bottle so I just nuke it for a couple seconds until it’s warm and spreadable, but not fully melted. Then I coat my ends with it. (My roots are crazy oily so they get none of the fun stuff. ) You can also warm up a little olive oil and mix in a mashed avocado until it’s a paste-like texture. Leave on for 5, 10 or 15 minutes and rinse out. Do this a couple times a week and you should see some improvement. (Aim for three times, since we’re talking major issues here. But I know you probably don’t have that kind of life and time. So promise me you’ll do it AT LEAST once a week.)

In the meantime, even though losing length isn’t an option for you, make sure you go in for regular trims. Get rid of the damage as often as possible, even just a quarter-inch at a time. Even the completely fried ends will look worlds better after a quick trim, and you’ll expose slightly healthier hair each time, especially if you’re religious about the oil treatments or deep conditioning masque.

Good luck!


Published July 14, 2014. Last updated July 19, 2014.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Suzy Q

    July 14, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    I have good hair. It’s pretty much my only physical blessing. However, part of what makes it good is using good products. I use Pureology shampoo and conditioner and until recently used a combo of Frieda 3-Day Straight with some Fekkai Glossing Cream before blow drying. I have recently discovered the 10 Minute Miracle with Keratin hair treatment/spray and it is fabulous! I was HIGHLY SKEPTICAL, and it is pricey, but it is amazing. Replaced two products. Also, I have a co-worker who gets her (frizzy) hair dyed regularly, and she uses this stuff with excellent results. She also has had better hair (and compliments from her hairstylist) after I encouraged/forced her to switch to Pureology hair care. Like any good drug dealer, I gave her some free travel-size bottles so she could get hooked and then left it up to her to pay for her habit!

  • Jeannie

    July 14, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    For what it’s worth, I just wanted to share that for me, my hair post partum with my first child was DREADFUL. I had had ok hair before — nothing special, but healthy. And post partum I had straw.  It was impossible. And since I hadn’t changed shampoos or treatment or hair washing routine, I could only blame hormones. 

    So perhaps that’s also part of your hair woes, but I would also second Amy’s comments on the highlights. 

    (Bizarrely, for me, my second pregnancy gave me my old hair back — plus more curls! Pregnancy hormones are very very weird.)

    • Kate

      July 14, 2014 at 10:49 pm

      Pregnancy hormones are indeed very weird. I had stick straight hair my entire life until I got pregnant. Pregnancy #1 gave me weird wavy hair on only part of my head and a 2 inch stripe of darker hair (stylist and I figured it roughly correlated to the last month of pregnancy and the 4th trimester). Pregnancy #2 gave me even wavier hair (an improvement) and darker hair ever since (and that baby is now over 2.5). Can’t wait to see what pregnancy #3 does.

  • Lauren

    July 15, 2014 at 10:59 am

    At about 6 months postpartum my hair started falling out like crazy so much so that I had actual nearly-bald spots that finally look normal again a year and a half later. I have to say I think it could have something to do with your colorist and her technique. If you’re getting foil highlights I can’t believe three proper sessions would do that much damage, and I say that as someone who got blond highlights regularly for ten years. If your hair was as damaged as you say, I’m pretty surprised your colorist continued to highlight it and continue the damage. I would look for someone else, and when you go for touch ups, make sure they just highlight your roots to avoid over processing the already colored parts of your hair. In the meantime–Garnier’s Damage Repair Hair Butter is AMAZING. 

  • Kristin

    July 15, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I fried my hair really bad in my mid 20’s. I had some chunks that were almost black mixed in with my blonde highlights. After being tired of that, I decided to bring all the dark chunks back up to platinum and it fried my hair. By fried I mean chunks fell out as I brushed it when wet. So I used the Redken Extreme line and it really helped rebuild the proteins in my hair.

    I don’t have a cosmetology license but my mother does so I like to think I have a little knowledge by proxy. It sounds to me like your stylist is using too high volume developer or she’s letting it process too long. It all depends on how dark your natural color is and how far she’s having to bring up the color. Either way she should be more concerned that she fried your hair and how to help you fix it. I would find someone else.

  • Karen

    July 16, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    randomly, I was just talking with my hair stylist about putting regular lotion on frizzy, damaged hair. She said Lubriderm is an excellent product for that application and always recommends that as a starting point. Doesn’t work for everyone, but for many it does and is a cheap way to go, lol!

  • Frances

    July 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    OP here! Thanks for the advice! Just to clarify, my daughter is 16 months old. Could hormones still be partially to blame? I assumed that everything would be somewhat back to normal by now, but I actually have no idea how long that stuff can last! 
    I appreciate all the suggestions! Now I have a reason to buy some coconut oil…I’ve been told you can use that stuff for basically everything!

  • Sarah

    July 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Oh man – hormones & hair. I had no idea that being pregnant would do such a number on my hair! My curly hair grew out wavy for awhile & I had no idea what to do with it. To top it all off, most of my post-partum hair loss was in my bangs region, so when it finally started growing back it was like I was growing out bangs – which I haven’t had since 8th grade! Baby is now almost 18 months & the good news is that the curls are back & I almost recognize my hair again. 🙂

  • Ashley Miller

    February 19, 2016 at 10:03 am

    My hair hasn’t been the same since my daughter was born either. Before pregnancy I had the PRETTIEST blonde hair and now everytime I try to get at least a decent blonde it just will not budge. I want to cry every time. Is this permanent? Will my hair ever go back to the way it was?