Sensory Overload: Why You Feel "Touched Out” as a New Mom
When you imagined life as a mom, you probably imagined lots of cuddles or hugs and kisses from your children.
But what if you start to feel like being touched by your kids or partner is making your skin crawl?
While you love your family, you still may start to feel “touched out” and overwhelmed by physical contact as a new mom. This is especially true if you’re in the postpartum period and your body is still recovering from birth. In the early days of parenting, you’re constantly babywearing or holding an infant, changing diapers, and feeding a person who cannot take care of themselves.
If you’re feeling like you’re experiencing sensory overload from how much your children, and possibly even your partner, touch you, know that you certainly aren’t alone. So many parents, just like you, are trying to process the feelings of needing physical space while also enjoying the comfort of being close to their family members.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Postpartum Care (From Underwear to Hair Loss
What is Being "Touched Out"?
Before we begin talking about why moms feel too touched out and how they can begin putting some boundaries in place, let’s first define what the term means.
If you’re just hearing the term “touched out” for the first time, think of being "touched out" as the feeling of being overwhelmed by the physical contact your children or partner give you throughout the day or during certain periods of time.
If you’re feeling physically or emotionally drained from too much touching and cuddling, you may be seeking more personal space or even some physical time away from your family members so that you can regroup and recharge.
Feeling touched out doesn’t mean that you don’t love your family or that you want them to ever touch you. It just means that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. Your senses are actually too stimulated and you need space to recharge and regain your energy without anyone else in your space.
It’s vital that you don’t shame or blame yourself for feeling touched out. It’s an incredibly normal phenomenon, especially for stay-at-home moms and new moms of babies and young children who demand more physical closeness from their parents.
It’s easy to feel “mom guilt” for recoiling from your child’s touch or hugs, but it’s extremely normal to feel touched-out for a while, and a sign you need to prioritize your own well-being in order to be a more present parent.
What Causes Sensory Overload?
Everyone has their own personal boundaries, so it’s difficult to claim there is one particular line that separates positive touch from being touched out.
It’s important to reflect on your own personal circumstances. When do you find yourself feeling most frustrated? Is it at a particular time of day or in a certain situation?
For example, it’s common if you feel touched out at the end of the day. It all starts during the hectic period of the night between dinner and bedtime when everything seems to need to get done at once.
New Moms Are Often Placed in the Main Caregiver Role
The stresses of the day have already piled up, and you’re worried about what needs to get done around the house after your children go to sleep. This also happens to be one of the times of day your children require more physical proximity from you.
They may need help with feeding, bathing, and getting dressed for bed. They may wish to cuddle close for reading time or beg you to lay with them until they fall asleep. And when all of these things come together, you may feel like exploding and desperate for some time alone or at least some time without everyone needing something from you.
Situations or life circumstances may also influence how much touching is simply too much. Let’s start with the obvious: until your children are mobile and able to sit on their own or walk on their own, someone needs to hold them! And that someone is often the female parent.
According to research in the “American Journal of Marriage and Family,” the emotional and physical needs of children are still mostly met by their mothers. If you’re currently in this stage of life, you’re likely being touched constantly from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep.
Why Breastfeeding Can Lead to Feeling Touched Out
And in the middle of the night when you’re up multiple times feeding your child. Mothers who breastfeed their children are also at extremely high risk of feeling touched out. In the first two weeks of a baby’s life, it is suggested that mothers should breastfeed for 10 to 15 minutes on each breast every two to three hours.
And depending on how long a person chooses to breastfeed their child, they may have a baby or toddler that depends on their body for nourishment for the first couple years of their life. Mothers who bottle feed also may feel touched out during the night because of the need to hold their baby while feeding them.
The Effects of Being Touched Out on Your Sex Life and Relationship
Feeling touched out at night can also cause issues or tension in your romantic relationship and sex life as the last thing most new moms experience this sensory overload wants at the end of the day is to be intimate with their partner or spouse.
However, while this is entirely reasonable, it’s important to communicate how you’re feeling to your partner as it’s easy for them to feel rejected or hurt by a sudden lack of physical affection. That said, your partner should never pressure you to be intimate when you have expressed that physical boundary.
And let’s not forget that for some people, their own personal need for space or level of discomfort with physical touch may have started long before they became a mother. In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Jessica Combs Rohr says, “This can all be especially difficult if a mother has a history of interpersonal trauma, in which her bodily autonomy was not respected.”
To be able to give your body completely to a tiny human when you are still working through reclaiming it is an incredibly emotionally and physically taxing act, and it’s one that many mothers have difficulty coping with.
How Do You Recover from Being Touched Out?
If you’re feeling touched out right now, take a moment to think about what it is you need. Remember you’re not an extension of another person’s body but your own whole, separate human being who needs bodily autonomy and time to relax.
Schedule Some Alone Time
Is the sensory overload situational? Could your partner or other family members and friends provide support in any way?
If you don’t have access to regular childcare, consider if there is a way to take “breaks” throughout the day for yourself where you have some space and recharge between touches.
Maybe there are self-care strategies you can try to reset, such as meditating or laying down for 10-15 minutes while your partner watches the children. These may feel insignificant, but sometimes the tiniest amount of time away that you take can help you process all the sensory overload that’s in your atmosphere.
Having alone time is important for your mental health. Remember that it takes a village to raise a child, so don’t be afraid to call in other caregivers, like your family members to help you
Separate Touch From Caregiving
Right now you’re only associated with human contact and touch with acts of service and caregiving for others, but small touches, like hugging or holding hands, are also a beautiful form of connection to other people. Remind yourself that touch can also be a form of self-care.
You could schedule a spa day to get a massage or facial. Having someone focused on caring for your needs may help relieve stress and reset your mindset a bit.
Even just a quick cuddle time at night with your baby or partner that is only focused on connecting can feel completely different to touch that’s for the purpose of feeding, getting kids to sleep or another obligation.
Communicate Your Needs with Your Kids
How you communicate with your children about feeling touched out truly depends on their age. It’s safe to say that babies who cannot communicate with us with words will certainly not understand that you need a break. And even if you do need the break, you may not always be able to actually get one.
But as they get older, modeling body autonomy is a great way to get the space you need at times and teach them to have their own personal boundaries.
In an interview for this article, Rhode Island mom Kate Huot Bruzzi says, “My two-year-old isn’t getting it yet, but I’m starting to use phrases like “Mama needs some space” or “That doesn’t feel good to my body” and hoping it’ll catch on.”
Virginia mom Emily Fagan says, “I’ve just started being very honest. I’ll tell them I’m touched out and please do not touch me for the rest of the “x” time period. I tell them I love them but my mind and body are done for right now and I need a break.
She continues, “This happens when I’m overstimulated and so I’m just trying to be really vocal about it so they know they can set the same boundary with others. Now, this is only possible because they’re 5 and 8. When they were younger it didn’t work.”
Having open and direct conversations about needing physical space is a great way to get them to understand that their bodies are their own, too. And that they absolutely are in control of who touches them and what kind of touch is allowed. It’s a great way to begin conversations about what kinds of touches are safe and what kinds of touch shouldn’t be allowed.
Normalize having conversations with your children about consent and body autonomy from an early age so they feel comfortable and confident using their voices to speak up for their own personal boundaries.
Communicate Your Needs with Your Partner
The conversation you have with your partner may be slightly different from the one you have with your children. Why? Because you may need to talk to them about two different things: your need for them to help you with the children and your need to have them respect your personal and physical boundaries.
In regard to the children, let your partner know that you need them to be more physically present. Maybe that means they need to step into the role of the cuddler or be more active with the baby and its needs.
If you have young kids in addition to babies, it may be that you need your partner to help enforce boundaries by redirecting your children when they notice you’re feeling overwhelmed by the physical contact you’re receiving.
But let’s not forget about physical intimacy. When you move past your postpartum period, your spouse may wish to reintroduce intimacy in your life. But what if the two of your needs aren’t aligned at the right time? What happens if you’re feeling touched out and they want to connect?
It’s important to encourage open conversation about your physical intimacy needs and reassure your spouse that if you can’t connect physically, you still care for them and you’re still interested in connecting…just not at that moment.
It's Normal to Be Touched Out, But It's Not Permanent
If you’re a new mom, know that the feeling of being touched out is completely normal. And most importantly, with some time and situational changes, you won’t feel so physically overwhelmed by all the touching that happens to moms. Acknowledge your feelings, know that they are valid, and seek help when needed.
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Erin helps small business owners boost their confidence and attract the right audience for them through her work as an SEO Copywriter for websites, a copy coach, and as the host of the ‘Talk Copy to Me’ podcast.