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Getting In Touch with the “Touched Out” Feeling

shutterstock_253872553By Kendra Atkins-Boyce, Portland, Oregon

Your skin crawls. You can’t stand the thought of one more snuggle or cuddle.  The idea of intimacy with your partner is the farthest thing from your mind. You just want a few minutes to feel like your body is your own.

If you are like many breastfeeding mothers, you are very familiar with the feeling of being “touched out.” It’s a strange phenomenon because, along with the irritation, comes the guilt over feeling irritated by your loved ones. Never fear, your feelings are completely normal, and there are things you can do to get past these touchy feelings.

“Being touched out is a very real thing,” says Kelly Doughty. “Mother is the safe haven. Mother is where ‘milkies’ happen. Mother is the one that is usually there. Mother is the vehicle baby goes everywhere with. It can be extremely tough, especially for introverts such as myself. I’ve always been someone who needs alone time to recharge and repair, but I knew that I wanted my girls to have secure attachment.”

Maura Hume, of Goffstown, New Hampshire, says, “I breastfed my son, Theodin, for the first two years of his life. Nursing was a special time for closeness, bonding, and nourishment. I remember times, especially during the early months, when cluster feeds would leave me feeling very touched out. I loved my baby and was very proud of his chubby arms and legs, but between cluster feeds and pumping I felt like I was a walking milk machine!”

“I’m a first-time mother to a spunky, active one-year-old daughter, Abigail,” says Whitney Davis. “We breastfeed, co-sleep, and babywear. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so Abigail and I play together all day. I’ve been touched out plenty of times! I feel anxious and claustrophobic. The simplest touch leaves me with a negative, overwhelming feeling that seems to say, ‘This is not okay. I’m not okay.’”

Julie, mother of three, says, “I remember telling my husband that with three children (7, 2 and a breastfeeding newborn) I felt like I was never not being touched and was ready to scream sometimes.”

“As the mother of 13-month-old twins, my days can be chaotic and sometimes leave me feeling touched out. I find myself in a constant battle to repossess my body as my own,” says Sarah Rodriguez. “[T]here is no more ‘personal space’; what used to be my arms have been repurposed for tugging, my braids are now rope for better climbing; I am more of a human jungle gym now than anything, or at least some days I feel that way. Even on the toughest days I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Each mother has a different limit she needs to reach before feeling touched out, and each mother will deal with those feelings in different ways. Here are some suggestions from mothers who have been there.

It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to feel less touched out is to seek out even more touch. A bit of touch focused on giving you energy or soothing your nerves can help you recharge. When my daughter was a toddler, I would even ask her to walk on my back or play with my hair when I was feeling touched out.  It was fun for her and it helped me feel ready to resume my role as a climbing gym joyfully. Sometimes a prolonged hug from my husband or daughter was just the ticket. Other times, I needed professional help, so I booked a sitter and an appointment for a massage, a coffee date, a haircut, or therapy and got away for a few hours.

Whitney says, “When this [touched out feeling] happens, I like to gently touch my daughter and my husband by hugging them or kissing them. When I respond to my negative feelings by gently touching my family members, it cools me down and settles me. It tells me ‘Hey, touching is okay. Touching is good, remember? You love touching your daughter and husband.’ And then I feel okay and I don’t feel touched out anymore because I’ve reestablished the fact that touching is good. I feel this solution is much more selfless and effective than hiding under my blanket to cool down, which is how I initially handled the situation. By reminding myself that touch is good, I am able to remain gentle, loving, and calm.”

shutterstock_253872559Being honest about your feelings and admitting them out loud can also help alleviate some of the pressure. Remember that your partner doesn’t know what’s going on in your mind if you aren’t transparent about it. Julie says, “Just saying it out loud made me feel better and helped [my husband] recognize how overwhelmed I felt. He started really seeing it, and he was able to both sympathize and make me laugh. He encouraged me to find ways to get away, even if it was just behind a locked door, with no one needing me, and a long bath. Or, when I was especially exhausted, he’d let me have the bed to myself and slept on the couch. We all know how nice that can be! Mostly, he was less needy himself and sensitive to his own physicality with me but still made me feel loved and wanted, on my terms. More importantly, it helped me to have him realize that my need for alone time wasn’t about him or even about the kids. What a relief!”

It may be that the touched out feeling is a result of a lack of enough alone time.

Sarah Harvey says, “My daughter is a very attached 12-month-old. Sometimes all it takes to get past the ‘touched out’ feeling for me is getting 15 minutes to shower while my husband keeps her occupied. The times of feeling touched out have come more often lately than they did before because she’s so mobile that she climbs all over me. When I feel that way and my husband is home I just say, ‘I need you to take her for a minute,’ and I take some time to breathe independently.”

The alone time you take doesn’t have to comprise hours. Just taking a few minutes to decompress can be a big help.

Maura says, “My husband and I worked together during these touched out times to ensure that I was able to get out of the home for short periods of time. I found that a quick solo trip to the store or to a tea shop with a book in tow was helpful. Even more helpful were phone calls to loved ones and visits with friends, especially those with young children. These left me feeling supported and refreshed, and ready to tackle the next round of late night cluster feeds. At times, even visits to online support (such as the LLLI Mother-to-Mother Forums) provided the boost I needed. When feeling touched out, it is often a sign that we, as women and mothers, need to feel supported and loved. It is important to ensure we are caring for ourselves so that we can, in turn, care for our little ones!”

When your partner isn’t around, you can still give yourself some space. Sarah Rodriguez says, “[W]hen I find myself feeling touched out, I remove myself from whatever it is we may be doing and I take a deep breath. I grab a cold glass of water. I take a break. I’d like to say I could just hand my children to my husband and go to the other room, but I can’t. My husband works long hours just about every day, so in order to keep my sanity I’ve created my own relaxing rituals that I practice throughout the day. Making a hot cup of tea or decaf coffee, reading a short blog, having a quick snack, putting on some music that isn’t the soundtrack to a favorite children’s movie, all these things I do for myself. It’s not selfish or wrong to need a moment to yourself. They leave me feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything my twins can throw at me—literally!”

Once you admit that you are feeling touched out, you can start to get in touch with what helps. Your entire family will benefit when you feel refreshed and excited to spend time with them. As I discovered after weaning my daughter, the touched out feeling will still come up from time to time even after your breastfeeding relationship has ended, so finding what works for you now will have lasting benefits. I hope you’ve found some ideas to try, and I’d love to hear what works for you.