I’d heard moms talk about being “touched out,” and I’d certainly seen it portrayed on TV—the exhausted new mom, wincing as her husband reaches out to touch her, harshly telling him that she just needs some space. But I didn’t really understand what they meant until I had my first child.
When my husband would arrive home from work, I was desperate for some conversation that wasn’t just me narrating the millionth diaper change to my adorable but nonverbal baby. I’d talk his ear off, sharing all the thoughts and questions I’d had all day, not noticing he wasn’t even in the room anymore.
But at the same time that I wanted that interaction, I craved physical space. I wanted to shake my hands out, stretch my neck, and feel the lightness of my arms without the weight of my baby.
At times this feeling was overwhelming, and I couldn’t take a single second more of anyone being in physical contact with me. I was touched out.
Why does this happen to moms? We’re human beings—hardwired to want contact with other human beings—so it makes little sense that we’d get so overwhelmed by touch.
And come on, it’s not like we’re squeezed into an overcrowded bus in July and desperate for a little breathing room…we’re spending our days holding adorable, tiny, delicious smelling babies. How could that possibly be too much?
It can be too much because it’s not actually about the physical touch. It’s about the neediness.
Newborns are entirely dependent on us for survival, particularly during the first few months of life. During pregnancy, moms provide it all involuntarily. We notice it in our insane fatigue and seemingly insatiable appetite, but it doesn’t really take any extra work on our part to meet our baby’s needs.
After birth is a totally different story. You are on-call 24/7, working tirelessly to care for your baby. There’s no other time in life that someone is so dependent upon you, and their neediness is just so intense.
So when you feel touched out, it’s actually not your body saying “I need the touching to stop.” It’s your body saying “You’re reaching your limit here. You need a break.” It’s a warning sign to you that it’s time to recharge.
So, what should you do when you feel touched out?
Engage in some self-care, whatever that looks like for you. It might involve alone time, if that’s what feels right to you. But don’t let feeling touched out push you away from others, if connection is something that energizes and restores you.
Physical contact can actually be a good way to heal from being touched out, as counterintuitive as that sounds, when the physical contact is focused on caring for yourself.
Get a massage, accept a hug from your partner, even cuddle with your baby in a way that isn’t connected to caretaking but is done just for fun and enjoyment. The important thing is to make sure that whatever it is that’s happening is focused on caring for yourself for a bit.
Perhaps even more important than figuring out what to do when you feel touched out, is learning how to prevent it from happening in the first place.
If being touched out is your body’s warning system that you’re over-extended, how do you keep yourself from getting to that point while still being a present, engaged and nurturing mom?
You prevent it by building time for yourself into your routine and viewing that time as essential to your ability to function as a mom and partner. You prevent it by making sure you are caring for yourself—getting as much sleep as you can, making sure you’re eating well and drinking enough water, and spending a few minutes outside each day.
You prevent it by accepting help whenever it’s offered, and speaking up when you need even more help.
So next time you feel your skin start to crawl at the mere thought of someone touching you for a single second longer, or you tell your husband that you’re going to need something bigger than a king sized bed because you can’t stand it when his feet accidentally touch yours, remember that it’s not actually about the touch.
It’s time to care for yourself, and you’re a phenomenal caregiver.