Help! I Love My Baby, But I Am 'Touched Out'
New mothers and primary carers end up with little time to themselves, especially if they're breastfeeding, as young babies require a lot of feeding time and may even sleep on their parents in the early days. This level of constant attention can leave new parents feeling "touched out" and craving their own personal space.
Board-certified OB-GYN and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist Cindy M.P. Duke, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., said that being touched out can develop over time and can cause negative emotions in the parents who judge themselves for their reaction. "It is a sense of overwhelm or discomfort with being touched when you were previously okay with it. It can also mean feeling guilty over no longer wanting to be touched," Duke said.
Parents face many challenges while they are child-rearing, which can cause them to feel touched out. "This can be fatigue, exhaustion and/or a sense of burnout with 24/7 parenting duties," Duke added.
What contributes to parents feeling touched out?
Breastfeeding a newborn or young baby is an activity that requires a lot of touch and time. Based on an average of five hours of feeding per day, it can take an estimated 1,800 hours to exclusively breastfeed one child for one year. This nearly equates to a full-time job of 1,960 hours (40 hours per week, with three weeks of leave for vacation).
There can be other factors at play when it comes to a parent feeling "touched out," such as individual personality, family situation, being at home all day with a child and working long hours. This can lead to caregivers feeling "overloaded and emotionally spent at times," said Mary Kay Jordan Fleming, Ph.D., a professor of developmental psychology at Mount St. Joseph University.
Fleming said there can also be a discrepancy between how much a child wants to be touched and the touch desires of the parent. "The quality of the parent-child relationship depends on the 'match' between the two individuals," she said.
As a child grows, this means that some parents "may find snuggle-seeking babies a bit overwhelming at times" and "a high-touch mom may feel a bit hurt by a child who insists on lots of independence," Fleming added. She concluded that the relationship is a two-way street, where parent and child learn to accommodate each other over time.
Coping with the need for space
While being touched out will not necessarily disappear overnight during this period of adjustment, there are things that caregivers can do to look after themselves.
"It's important for each of us to consider our own threshold for exhaustion, and to build into our routine some self-care, like personal time, relaxation and meditation," Fleming said. She recommends a few practices to help:
- Taking short naps when possible
- Visiting friends
- Keeping a strong support network around you, especially while breastfeeding
"You can't avoid the mental load that comes with parenting," said author and blogger Mandy Waysman. She has found ways to adapt her relationship so both she and the baby's needs are met. "I have a 10-year-old that still is a physical, lovey, in-my-face child, so at times I feel trapped. Now, I am able to communicate with her if I need a bit of elbow room, so that has helped," she said.
"It is okay to talk about it now and it is more common to hear about it," Waysman added. Duke felt this phenomenon "was not super common but not unheard of," and agreed that talking was an important part of managing it.
Duke recommends talk therapy with a trained counselor and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in order to process these feelings. CBT is "a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave," according to the National Health Service's (NHS) website.
Parenthood is an adjustment
How long will the feelings of being touched out last? Duke said it "can average a couple of years." Fleming felt it was a gradual process that evolves over the span of a child's development.
"A child/teenager's independence grows very gradually, sometimes in fits and starts. When children are young, parents may encourage it, but should not push children away," Fleming said. She cited the long infancy of human children as the reason behind these strong physical, emotional and social needs. Because of this, she stresses continuing to give them security and stability whenever possible in order to foster independence from you in the long run.
Fleming concluded that even into adulthood, different people can have different needs when it comes to touch, some wanting a lot and some requiring much less. It may also be something that changes throughout our own lifetime as well as that of our children. She said, "There's a lot of give-and-take throughout life as we adapt to each other's needs."