How to Cope When You’re Feeling “Touched Out”

A woman hold us her hands to block a hug - she's touched out

Has this ever happened to you? You’ve just finished feeding your baby and you set him down, only to be greeted with open arms by your partner – but the thought of being hugged makes your skin crawl. If you’ve ever recoiled at the thought of another adult touching you, even one you’d have loved to hug before you had a baby, you might be feeling “touched out.”

What does it mean to be “touched out”?

“Touched out” is a common term for the feeling of extreme sensory overstimulation that so many moms experience, especially during the fourth trimester. In short, you’re constantly being touched by your baby and/or kids, and while that physical affection is lovely it can also be totally overwhelming.

The result? The absolute last thing you want is to be touched when you finally have a free moment. This can cause relationship strain, understandably, and can also lead to feelings of guilt and resentment in both parties. And it can make your relationship with your kids harder too, as you might have less patience for their little paws all over you all the time.

Why does sensory overstimulation happen?

After you give birth (and, arguably, during pregnancy as well), your body stops being yours alone. Even if you’re not breastfeeding, your body will still serve as a safe space for your baby, both emotionally and physically, and you’re unlikely to get much time alone with yourself. If you are breastfeeding, that adds another layer: you’re literally a feeding machine, and a part of your body that was previously used for your own pleasure is now completely devoted to someone else’s survival.

All this can lead to various problems, including body image issues or even a crisis of identity, but the most common day-to-day issue is the feeling of being desperate not to be touched.

Sensory overload can also refer to the other four senses, and they can all affect each other. So, for example, if your baby has been crying loudly for much of the day, even if you haven’t felt physically touched too much, you might still panic at the offer of a hug from your partner because you feel sensory overwhelm.

How to cope with feeling “touched out”

  1. Remember that you’re not the only one, and you’re not a bad parent or partner for feeling this way. Yes, this can be easier said than done, but it’s so important. One way to access this reminder is to read mom chat boards about being “touched out” – you’ll see just how many other women are struggling with the same thing, and maybe you can even practice turning some of the empathy you feel for them back toward yourself.
  2. Talk to your partner. It’s completely understandable for our partners to feel rejected when we don’t want to be touched, especially if we shudder in revulsion at their advance (which sometimes we do!). By communicating your experience, you can help them understand that this isn’t about you not wanting to be touched by them; it’s simply a response to being touched too much overall. You can even show them this blog post if you think that might help! And if you’re nervous about being assertive with your partner, check out the DEAR skill for advice on how to approach it.
  3. Lean into your desire for alone time. The best way to combat sensory overload is to periodically shut down the input. If it’s just about being touched, going into another room while your partner watches the kids may be enough. If sound is also an issue, maybe you need to leave the house and go to a quiet space like a library for an hour. Everyone around you will benefit from you taking care of your needs.

Another thing you can do to help you cope with being “touched out” is to get support from a mental health professional – we can help with that. At Prospera, our mental health coaches are trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, which are super effective for anxiety, depression, and anger issues. 

If you could use some support (and who couldn’t?), why not give us a try? Book your free consultation today.

Content reviewed by Dr. Sarah Stanger, Clinical Psychologist

Anne Godenham is a writer and editor with a passion for mental health awareness and accessibility