I was never really told about feeling touched out before I had a baby. I was observant enough that I noticed some moms around me got what appeared to be “tired” of having their child crawl all over them – which I totally understood. Everyone likes and needs their own personal space at times. But feeling touched out was a bit more than that for me and I don’t think it’ s something you really “get” until you feel it.
That being said, I still think it’s important to talk openly about experiencing it. Why? Because it’s important we realize that it happens to other people; that we’re not alone; and that it’s okay to feel this way.
I guess I was “lucky” in that I never really felt touched out until closer to the 7 month mark. Did Maggie cluster feed before that? Absolutely. I mention this because people often feel touched out in association with cluster feeding.
I remember the one day she clustered all day as a newborn, and it was my first day alone with her (my husband had just gone back to work). I felt exhausted and a whole mix of emotions. I cried. I wanted her to let me go to the washroom for even 2 minutes. I wanted her to sleep not in my arms for just a few seconds because I felt physically tired. I think this was my first experience of feeling touched out, but I didn’t really recognize it at the time.
For months after I never really experienced it again. I fed on demand, so I was used to nursing pretty frequently. Maggie slept well as a young baby – she’d usually only wake up 1-2 times a night so although I felt tired some days, it still wasn’t what I felt around 7 months. I was very fortunate to have a pretty “low key” baby (she still is).
At 7 months things changed; let me set the scene for you.If you read my 7 month Maggie update, you might remember that my child went on a sleep strike at some point in that month and this lasted two months or so. We learned to cope – but it was definitely not without its challenges. It was a surprise to have a baby who slept so well for the first 6 months of her life switch over to fighting sleep, waking up every 2-3 hours (more than she did as a newborn), and desiring constant contact and closeness. But this can be totally normal – she needed me, so I was there for her in the way that worked for our family (and each of us will go on different paths when it comes to sleep – I’ve talked about this before). She was going through so many developmental changes over these 2 months (from 7-9 months) that I wasn’t surprised her sleeping was shifted. But just because I wasn’t surprised didn’t mean it wasn’t hard for me.
I think my experience of feeling touched out at this time in particular was worsened by the fact that my period had returned at 5 months postpartum (despite constant breastfeeding during the day, she had been sleeping long stretches at night so I figure this is why it came back at that time). My hormones had started to regulate, but that means things like PMS and irritability had also come back full force for me. I really started to notice these changes at 7 months, when my sleep started to get more interrupted again.
This is when I started to really feel touched out and recognize the feeling. It was interesting because my sensation of “touched out” definitely waxed and waned with my hormones and my cycle. It also was influenced by the amount of sleep both she and I were getting. If she was teething. There were so many factors influencing it. I certainly never felt touched out everyday or every night, but I’m sure people can and do experience this.
Let me describe what “touched out” felt like to me. For awhile at 7 months (and on and off for a bit after that) Maggie would wake up within 40 mins – 1 hr of me putting her down for the night no matter what we did. Some nights I felt very overstimulated by this. I had just fed her, and it was at that point in the day (while I was still on mat leave) where I was looking forward to having even an hour or two to myself. I liked to take a bath to wind down, read my book, spend time with my husband, or blog. Whatever made me happy and relaxed. Just something. So her waking up repeatedly after just being put down for weeks on and off, and waking up repeatedly after that, was just plain overstimulating.
The best way for me to describe my experience of feeling “touched out” goes beyond the physical sensation of being touched too much. It involved an emotional experience too. To me, it honestly felt like bugs crawling over my skin when it got really bad – just a feeling of being overwhelmed and overstimulated. I felt annoyed. Irritable. I don’t know. My nipples would also start to get sore – and that was something that hadn’t happened since we started breastfeeding, but constant sucking (which went along with these wakings) will do that. I just wanted a little bit of time to myself. But then I felt guilty for wanting that – so “touched out” also encompassed all my feelings of guilt. I felt like a bad mom because I wanted my own space at the end of the day.
I felt overstimulated because I was, and then I felt guilty because I felt like feeling that was wrong. Well, I’m here to tell you – as I learned over time – you don’t need to feel that way. You shouldn’t feel guilty. I didn’t want time to myself because I didn’t love my baby (because I love her so much!)- it’s just natural I think at the end of a day where you care for the life of another to want some space and time to wind down. I think this is the case with caring for your children, but it’s also the case with being someone who works directly with people or being a caregiver for anyone at all.
I had to keep reminding myself: this experience is common and you’re not alone. I’ve heard from a lot of moms over my first year postpartum that they have experienced this in some capacity. It is not the same experience for everyone. Some people may feel worse, some may feel it more ‘lightly’ if you will.
No matter how it feels to you, your feelings are valid and it’s 100% normal to not feel like you can parent 24 hours straight in a day. To feel like you need a bit of space or like you don’t want to be touched.
It’s normal for some days to feel really easy and lovely, and others to feel challenging and gloomy (but too gloomy may mean you should seek additional support). Life was like this before parenting too, but now you have this added responsibility on those challenging days and you feel like you have to be there giving your all or else you failed.
When I started experiencing this, I was sort of a mess but over time I learned ways to cope and manage the sensation. When I would starting feeling touched out, I was slowly able to recognize that I may just need a short break; just a few minutes could be enough. Sometimes I just needed to set M down in her crib and just rub her back instead of holding her. Sometimes I needed a bit more support and I’d call in my husband to switch off with me (which he often did without me asking – but don’t forget that partners aren’t psychic and sometimes you may need to ask for help or support).
Sometimes after she would go down, I honestly needed to cry about it a bit, let some feelings out or reach out to other moms I know about how difficult the day has been. These moments are not easy.
What I’m saying is: do what you can and what you need to do. If you have support – this is a great moment to look to them for some help. Don’t be afraid to tell them – “I just need a few moments”. I remember crying to my husband on difficult days that I needed a few moments just to get back to myself, then I’d feel embarrassed I told him that. I told him a few times I felt like a bad parent in those moments because I “needed a break”, but he always told me that I was not a bad parent – I was a good parent because I was taking those moments to reset! Because I was aware of my limits (and we all have them) and my capabilities. Because I was being realistic. Don’t be afraid to speak up about how you feel to someone you trust and don’t be afraid to feel what you feel – without guilt or judgment from others or yourself (sometimes that is the hardest).
That brings me to another important point: it is really important to be realistic – I spoke recently about expectations vs reality in postpartum on the podcast, and this is a great example. Parenting has so many expectations and often many of them are (as you realize when you become a parent) not very realistic. This is one of those things.
Remember: It is normal to need time to yourself each day. If you can – try and make that happen. Even a little bit of a time each day doing something you love or that relaxes you – it doesn’t have to be long, just a little will often do. I know we preach about self-care a lot, but it really is important. Lean on your support systems if you have them. If you don’t there may be resources available in your area to help. If not, try to carve out time – sometimes that means staying up a bit later or waking up a bit early. Or maybe what you love is sleep – in which case, do that when you can.
The important things to remember in these difficult moments (and there may be many, of different kinds, during your parenting journey):
- Your feelings are valid and it’s okay to feel them
- Sometimes it feels better to open up about your feelings to someone, anyone you trust – it can be a weight off your shoulders
- Try and carve out time for yourself – lean on support if you have it, or make it work the ways you can. A little bit of time each day is important.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance in the moment – sometimes we just need to breathe or a minute or two and come back more prepared/functional. If you don’t have assistance with you at all times, you can place baby down in a safe space like their crib for a moment to give yourself a mental break. This does not make you a bad parent.
- You’re not a superhuman – we can’t function at full capacity all of the time, it’s normal to need and desire time to rest or to ourselves to think/decompress/relax
- Set realistic expectations and goals; and disregard many of the unspoken ‘rules’ you hear about parenting or postpartum – they are often not realistic, and instead trap you within expectations that are unachievable at all times – this makes you feel guilty when you absolutely should not
Finally: you are doing an amazing job, and your baby (or babies) loves the heck out of you! It’s normal to have feelings; to find parts of parenting challenging; to need help; and to need a minute to recompose yourself at some points in the day. Remember that by caring for yourself, you are caring for your child too. Cut yourself some slack and use kind words when speaking to yourself. You’re doing a great job.