Managing Postpartum Loss of Libido with Natural Medicine
Postpartum sexual health is a common concern, and is an issue that unfortunately does not get discussed as much as it should during routine prenatal or postpartum care. Our sex life has the potential to make or break the relationship with partners, while also determining our quality of life. Optimizing sexual health is a topic of discussion that requires more attention – 41-83% of new mothers report experiencing a loss of desire to engage in sexual intercourse or activity up to one year following delivery. Whether you are experiencing loss of arousal, the inability to achieve an orgasm, or pain during intercourse – you are not alone!
The female sexual response occurs in three phases – desire, arousal, and orgasm. Though the complexities of this cycle are beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that a variety of vasculogenic, neurogenic, hormonal or psychogenic causes may be at play when it comes to finding the root cause of sexual health and function.
Following the birth of a child, many physical, emotional, and hormonal changes occur in a woman’s body, which, will inevitably impact her sexual function. For example, stitches and wound healing, fatigue, and vaginal dryness are a few changes that can affect a woman’s desire to engage in sexual intercourse and often prevent her from experiencing pleasure. At the same time, catering to the needs of a new baby, and having the child in the bedroom influences timing and privacy for sexual intimacy. Psychological factors and low mood associated with postpartum depression, changes in body image, or the fear of becoming pregnant with another child are also major hurdles to reigniting the flame in the bedroom.
The hormonal changes associated with breastfeeding can also have a significant effect on libido. Increased prolactin lead to prolonged hypo-estrogen states, which consequently lead to decreased vaginal lubrication and dryness. The decreased secretion of testosterone and androgens may affect sex drive and ability to achieve arousal as well. Breast tenderness and nipple stimulation may also lead to an inability to enjoy foreplay. The effect of hormones on libido and sexual pleasure are numerous, and should also be considered when selecting an appropriate form of contraception.
Here are some helpful hints to restoring your libido and ‘getting your groove back’:
NOTE: Some of the herbs mentioned above may not be safe if you are breastfeeding or during pregnancy. It is important to consult with your Naturopathic Doctor prior to taking any of these supplements or herbs.
L-ARGININE L-arginine is an amino acid precursor to the formation of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule that mediates the relaxation of vascular and non-vascular smooth muscle in the vagina and clitoris. With postpartum estrogen withdrawl there is a down-regulation of nitric oxide synthase expression in vaginal tissues, resulting in vaginal dryness and lack of lubrication. Supplementation with L-argine may be an alternative to hormone therapy for sexual concerns.
MACA (Lepidium meyenii) This South America root has been used for decades as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual performance. It has been shown to increase libido, enhance fertility, and may also support the secretion of sex hormones from the adrenal glands. Studies have also shown that Maca root may be effective managing SSRI-anti-depressant induced sexual dysfunction, namely reduced libido and difficulties having an orgasm.
DAMIANA (Turnera diffusa and Turnera aphrodisiaca) This herb has been historically used in Latin American cultures as a tonic for both the hormonal and nervous systems. The plant has been shown to act as a phytoprogestin (plant form of progesterone), which can help to support natural progesterone levels in the body. This may, as a result, help to support hormonal changes postpartum, and enhance sexual health and libido.
PANAX GINSENG (Panax quinquefolius) Korean Red Ginseng is another herb commonly used in the treatment of sexual dysfunction. The exact mechanism is unknown, however it may have a direct effect on the nervous system and gonads by increasing nitric oxide production, while increasing energy and stamina. It is also known to have aphrodisiac effects on patients with sexual dysfunction.
PHYTOESTROGENS Phytoestrogens are substances found in plants that function similarly to estrogens within the body. By increasing circulating levels of estradiol, vaginal dryness and lubrication may be improved, while enhanced blood flow to genitals may have a direct effect on increasing libido. Phytoestrogens include: Dong quai (Angelica sinensis), Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), and flaxseed.
Postpartum loss of libido is influenced by a variety of physiological and psychological factors, and therefore it is important to have a holistic health assessment in order to determine an individualized treatment plan for you. Please consult your Naturopathic Doctor for more information.