Breastfeeding and Hair Treatments

Breastfeeding and Hair Treatments

Thinking about getting a new hair color or hairstyle? A lot of mothers deprive themselves of their favorite hair treatments due to worries it might affect their breastfed babies. But should it really be the case? Check if your preferred hair treatment is compatible with breastfeeding.

What do experts say about breastfeeding and hair treatments? Currently, there is no evidence to prove that using hair treatments, including hair colors, perms, or relaxants, can harm a breastfeeding mother’s baby. According to the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), the most common chemical ingredients of hair treatments include ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol. These ingredients usually produce a strong scent and may irritate the scalp, skin, nose, or throat. However, experts noted that the strong odor does not equate to a high level of exposure to these chemicals.  The chemicals might be present in the hair treatment product, but typically, the amount absorbed by the skin to the bloodstream is too little to be passed on to the mother’s breast milk. 

So that’s good news for all the breastfeeding moms who want to have a new look. However, since hair treatment products contain varying types and amounts of chemicals, it’s good to be informed on the hair treatment you intend getting.

Coloring techniques

Hair dyes

Hair dyes are used to cover gray hairs or for changing your look with a new color. They can be either permanent or semi-permanent. Though there is limited research regarding their use while breastfeeding, experts suggest that only minute amounts of hair dye are transferred through the skin. The limited studies available say the levels that enter a mother’s milk are too low to produce any harmful effects to your baby.

Henna hair colorant

Natural henna and other pure vegetable dyes are a safer alternative for breastfeeding moms who want to change their hair color or to cover gray hair. These semi-permanent dyes have organic ingredients, so you won’t have to worry about the toxic effects of chemicals on your baby. Natural henna also preserves the natural make up of your hair.

Henna hair dye comes in a range of different brands and each of them come with their own instructions. If you choose to have a henna hair colorant, ask a professional who knows how to apply it to your hair correctly.


Balayage is a technique of coloring that gives a natural, multi-tone look to your hair. It uses different shades of hair dye to create a multi-dimensional color to your hair. Apart from being a trendy look, this type of hair coloring technique is easy to maintain. It has no defined regrowth lines which make it possible to maintain the look for a longer period of time.

The hair dye also rarely makes contact with the scalp which makes it a good choice for breastfeeding mothers who may have concerns with hair dye making contact with the skin. The balayage hairstyle is also a convenient choice for busy breastfeeding moms who don’t get a chance to visit the salon too often.

Tips in Coloring hair while Breastfeeding

Use ammonia-free hair dyes

Ammonia is a common ingredient among hair dyes, particularly in the permanent varieties. This chemical ingredient acts by opening the hair shaft to absorb the dye. One concern regarding ammonia is the strong fumes it emits which can become toxic in large amounts. Have someone care for your baby if you are intending to bleach your hair at home as it is known to irritate the respiratory tract. Some residue from the bleach will remain in the room where you had your hair dyed, and in your hair for a short while after. 

The good news is that there are now ammonia-free hair dyes. These would be a better option if you choose to color your hair while breastfeeding. Ammonia-free hair colorants contain the same chemical ingredients as other hair dyes but without the ammonia. 

Go for highlights rather than full colors

Unlike dying your hair, highlights are applied below the root so the hair dye doesn’t have contact with your scalp. This also makes them a better choice for breastfeeding mothers.

Buy your own hair coloring product

Buying your own hair dye gives you more control over what ingredients you choose to put in your hair. You can either do your own hair at home or bring your own dye to the salon.

Check the skin integrity of your scalp prior to coloring your hair

Even if experts claim that the amount of chemicals absorbed in the scalp is small, the risk of absorption increases if you have weakened or broken skin. It is better to wait until your skin heals before you dye your hair.

Do it in a well-ventilated area

If you’re getting your hair colored at home, do it outdoors if practical or in a well-ventilated room to minimize your baby’s exposure to the dye’s odor. Make sure you have somebody to take care of your baby, well away from where your hair is being dyed.

Rinse your hair and scalp thoroughly

After the dye has been left in for the recommended time, rinse your hair and scalp thoroughly before you handle your baby. Make sure there is no dye residue that may come in contact with your baby.

Wear a shower cap while handling your baby

Some mothers temporarily use a shower cap to keep their hair away from the baby right after coloring their hair.


Bleaching is a hair treatment that uses a combination of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide to lighten the shade of the hair. Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide are mixed together to form a bleaching or oxidizing agent. The oxidation process will raise the hair cuticle to remove the pigment of the hair and reveal a lighter shade. Some bleaching agents may be marketed as peroxide-free, but since the process involves oxidation, these products also contain other oxidizing agents.

Hydrogen peroxide is typically safe to use in the skin and hair but it may irritate the eyes, lungs and sensitive skin. So if you wish to have your hair bleached, here are some important things to consider.

Tips in Hair bleaching while Breastfeeding

Minimize postpartum hair loss

Ensure your hair is in good condition first before you decide to bleach your hair, Many breastfeeding, and nonbreastfeeding women experience postpartum hair loss in response to the hormonal changes brought about by giving birth. 

Bleaching involves oxidation which can be damaging to the hair follicles. This process adds further stress to your hair, which may compromise the quality of your hair. If this is an issue, maybe it is better to wait a few months until your hair condition returns back to normal. You can explore other options to lighten the shade of your hair.

Use petroleum jelly on your hairline prior to bleaching.

Spread some petroleum jelly on your hairline using a small piece of cotton. Petroleum jelly adds a protective layer from the bleaching agents. This will minimize skin irritation on your forehead.

Hair bleaching is best done at the salon

Hairstylists know best how to handle bleaching agents and you will also be away from your baby. If you have no time to visit the salon and want to do it at home, get advice from a hairstylist on how to do it properly and safely. Do it in a well-ventilated area and away from your baby.

Leave the bleach in your hair for the least possible time

Rinse your hair thoroughly right after the recommended time. Bleaching agents are harsh to your hair and skin, and you’ll want to avoid getting it in contact with your baby’s delicate skin. Make sure there is no residue left on your hair, skin, or clothing before you handle your baby.

Explore some natural alternatives

If you want to achieve your desired hair lightening without the harsh effects of chemicals, then you may want to explore some alternatives to hair bleaching. Some examples are lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, chamomile tea, cinnamon, and honey. Though these natural ingredients have gradual effects, they may help you achieve a new hair color without worrying about the negative impact of bleaching chemicals to your hair and to your nursing baby.


Hair perming creates curls or waves to naturally straight hair. In perming, a reducing agent is used to break the bonds that hold the hair’s keratin molecules in place. The most common reducing agent used in perming is ammonium thioglycolate, which is simply called “thio”. Reducing these bonds will make the hair soft and can easily be manipulated to the desired shape. 

After placing the reducing agent, the hair will then be held by perm rods. The sizes of the rods vary, depending on your desired result.  Once set, an oxidation agent, which contains hydrogen peroxide, is used to lock the hair bonds together. This will result in permanent curls or waves.

There are no studies to prove that chemicals used in hair perming can harm a breastfed baby, but as you can see, it involves the use of many chemicals to achieve the desired hairstyle. To keep informed, here are some important things to consider if you want to have a perm.

Tips in Hair perming while Breastfeeding  

Consider thio-free perms

This is more effective in terms of creating permanent curls, but it emits a strong odor and is more damaging to the hair strands. Modern thio-free perms make use of an alternative reducing agent called cysteamine.  It creates less permanent curls but does not have an unpleasant odor. It can be a better alternative if you want to perm your hair but minus the worry or the strong odor.

Think if you can commit to the hair maintenance required for perms

When you decide to have a perm, you can’t simply leave your hair that way. Perming requires additional hair care to keep it in good shape. You’ll need to use a shampoo, conditioner and hair spray that is specifically designed for perms. The bottom line, asses the cost of hair maintenance on top of your current budget. It might also be too time-consuming for a breastfeeding mom who barely has the spare time to fix her hair, especially in the first few months of nursing her baby. But if you think you can commit to the upkeep, then there is no problem to go for a perm.

Check if your hair type and condition is ideal for a perm

Perms are often not recommended for short and layered hair because perms will shorten the hair length on the process. It is also not suitable for dry and damaged hair, recently dyed or chemically-treated hair, and breastfeeding or non-breastfeeding moms who may have postpartum hair loss.  If your hair condition is in poor shape, perming will increase the dryness of your hair. 

Explore other ways to achieve curly hair

Perm, as the name suggests, is a technique that makes permanent curls. If you only want to have a new look for certain days, then why not use some non-permanent ways to curl your hair? Leaving curling rods overnight can give you pretty curls the next morning. You can choose to use to use curling irons if you want to set waves in your hair for a certain period of time.

Hair straightening/smoothening techniques


Hair rebonding is a popular way to straighten a naturally wavy or curly hair. It has been popularized in Japan, therefore called “Japanese straightening” or “thermal reconditioning”. It works almost the same as perming, but instead of using curling rods, it uses a hair straightening iron to flatten the hair strands. 

First, a perming solution is used to break down the hair bonds and make it softer. Perming solutions contain strong chemicals like ammonium thioglycolate (thio), sodium hydroxide, and guanidine hydroxide. A heated hair iron is then used to straighten the hair. A neutralizing agent is used to seal the hair bonds and maintain the straight structure. The entire process requires several hours to complete, no less than 4 hours for short hair. It will result in permanent straightening.

Relaxing hair

Relaxing is another hair straightening method. It traditionally uses lye or sodium hydroxide to quickly straighten the hair strands. Lye is a strong alkaline that can take effect quickly, but it can also irritate the scalp if left for long hours. There are non-lye relaxers that are available nowadays, which uses guanidine hydroxide as an active ingredient to straighten the hair.

Relaxing softens the curly or wavy parts of the hair to give it a more even look. It does not permanently straighten hair like what rebonding does. Most women with relaxed hair additionally style their hair using straightening irons.

Relaxing hair is more budget-friendly when compared to rebonding. However, to maintain the look, you may need to get it retouched every 8 weeks. Hair that is frequently exposed to relaxing chemicals is prone to dryness and hair loss. The chemicals can also be irritating and burning to the scalp if not handled properly.

Keratin treatment

Keratin treatment is a popular alternative to other hair straightening methods. It was popularized in Brazil, that is why it is also called the Brazilian blowout. 

Brazilian keratin treatment is actually a hair smoothening method. It uses formaldehyde-releasers like methylene glycol or glyoxylic acid, as active ingredients. Basically, the process involves soaking the hair with a formaldehyde-releasing solution, then using a blow dryer or iron to straighten the hair. 

It is a popular treatment as it leaves the hair feeling soft, less frizzy, and shiny. Keratin treatments are also compatible with bleached, dyed, and relaxed hair. The chemicals used for a keratin treatment is less damaging than that of rebonding and relaxing, but the smoothing effect lasts only for around 3 to 5 months. 

Formaldehyde-free keratin

There were some issues linking formaldehyde to skin, eye, and respiratory tract irritation. It was also linked to cancer, but studies show that the content involved in keratin treatments is too small to be significant. Because of these health issues, people are seeking alternatives. Formaldehyde-free keratin treatment uses other chemicals to smoothen the hair. Some examples are glutaraldehyde, oxalaldehyde and ammonium thioglycolate (thio).

Tips in Hair straightening/ smoothening while Breastfeeding

Weigh the pros and cons of each method

Before you decide to straighten or smoothen your hair, compare the pros and cons of each method. You should select the method that is most compatible with your current role as a breastfeeding mom. For example, consider that if you go for a rebond, you’ll be away from your baby for around 4 or more hours depending on your hair length and condition. If so, you’ll need to prepare on how his caregiver will feed him while you’re having your hair treated and decide if you need to pump.

Consider your hair condition

As mentioned earlier, a lot of moms notice that their hair becomes dry, brittle and more prone to hair loss after giving birth. If you are experiencing something similar, going for a rebonding or relaxing might increase the damage. Maybe try a keratin treatment instead to increase volume and make your hair appear shiny while getting a straighter look.

Keep your baby away from the chemicals used in the treatment

Keratin treatments usually allow you to wash your hair immediately after the treatment. Some treatments may require the chemical to stay in your hair a period of time. If you can’t wash your hair for the moment, you can wear a shower cap while breastfeeding to protect your baby from getting in contact with the chemicals. It is also better to breastfeed in a well-ventilated room to decrease the risk of your baby inhaling the chemical fumes.

Overall, hair treatments are compatible with breastfeeding, particularly if you follow the safety precautions along with the help of a hair professional. There is no reason to deprive yourself of a new look, hair color or style. If it can give you a sense of wellbeing and self-confidence, then go for it!


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