All Touched Out: How to Cope with Overstimulation

The feeling is real.

From wearing your baby in a carrier, to changing and swaddling your baby, to holding (and potentially breastfeeding) your baby during feedings, you’re consistently giving—and receiving—all kinds of baby touches. The touches you receive range from fingertips tugging your hair to a tongue pulsating along your nipple.

“Touch is how your baby understands calm, love, and attachment,” says Larissa Geleris, an occupational therapist. “Mom and baby both need it to form attachments.” But the frequency and types of touches you receive can create an imbalance in your nervous system—and potentially overwhelm it.

“You’re already hypersensitive to touch because that’s how you co-regulate with the baby,” Geleris says. And if you have other children, such as a toddler or two, you are likely already being greeted with a fair amount of non-calming touch.

A tired and overstimulated nervous system may leave you wanting to say, “Please don’t touch me because I cannot tolerate another piece of stimuli coming in my general direction.”

At this point, Geleris says, you are officially “touched out.”

What Does "Touched Out" Mean?

As mentioned above, being "touched out" means that you feel like you cannot handle more touch because your nervous system is overstimulated. To understand how this happens, it is important to know the various types of touch that you feel during the day.

The Different Kinds of Touch

Touch—from the intentional to the incidental—can impact you in dramatically different ways.

A lighter touch, like a tickle or a gentle stroke, can be stimulating. Deeper pressure, like a strong hug or a massage, can be calming and help to regulate your nervous system. If you’re getting a lot more of the former, you might find yourself craving the latter.

What Does Light Touch Tell Us?

“Light touch alerts you more to danger,” Geleris says. She says to think about the sensation you feel when your leg accidentally brushes against some poison oak, or when a mosquito lands on your neck. These are unwelcome, alarming touches—the kind you want to shield yourself from.

“When you have a newborn, although you have deep pressure from skin to skin, if you are breastfeeding, they are nibbling on you, they touch you in different ways, and you have to be tuned into a deep or shallow latch,” she says.

If you become overstimulated with baby touches, you may find it hard to decipher safe touches from potentially dangerous ones. Adding to the confusion, Geleris notes, are the other types of postpartum imbalances you are likely experiencing.

Life After Baby: 3 Lifestyle Disruptions that May Lead to Overstimulation

Becoming a mama comes with a lot of life changes, and those adjustments can impact your ability to handle stimuli.

“As a new parent, you’re somewhere between being both over- and understimulated,” she says. “You’re not sleeping, and your core is Jell-O…You’re also probably starving and thirsty,” she says. Your many pre-baby habits and patterns, which comprise your broader set of stimuli, are also experiencing disruptions:

  • You’re not likely engaging in thought-provoking discussions, reading novels, or leaving the house to socialize with friends and family without your baby—at least not with the same ease and frequency.

  • Conversations with your partner, if you have one, are often transactional and logistical in nature. They’re centered around household and baby needs—or your needs to shower, sleep, or eat something (or all of the above!).

  • You’re not likely getting the same level of physical exercise you got before or during your pregnancy. Your core muscles and energy levels are likely weaker than normal. And you don’t have as much time to work out.

When your sleep, appetite, intellectual and social stimulation, and even core stability are out of whack, she says, “you can’t make sense of everything else.”

Related Reading: Postpartum Self Care Matters

What to do When You're Overstimulated

The good news is that you are hardwired for baby touches; you and your infant need physical interaction, and you don’t need to touch your baby any less. You do, however, need to attempt to balance the types of stimulation you receive while giving your nervous system meaningful breaks.

Adding deeper-pressure touches to your mix of inputs is helpful, but if you are breastfeeding your baby, the solution to being touched out is a little more complex than adding the opposite kind of touch. For ways to help strike this stimulation balance, check out these tips.

Step by Step Guide - How to cope with being touched out

Larissa Geleris - Occupational therapist

Have constant baby touches left you feeling “touched out”? Try these tips to help you rebalance your nervous system.

Use the weight of your baby to calm your nervous system.

There’s a reason parents relax when holding their babies. The weight of your baby feels good! Practice this mindfully (and for the sake of safety, stay awake).

Use a weighted blanket or a lap pad while breastfeeding.

Applying gentle pressure to your belly and legs helps balance the lighter touches you are receiving on your breast.

Stand with your back against a wall.

Providing the back of your body with consistent pressure helps bring balance by cutting off stimuli behind you and helping you distinguish between different types of stimuli.

Move your body.

Change positions while breastfeeding, stretch your neck or legs, go for a walk, or do some light yoga. Engaging your muscles helps vary your physical stimuli.

Maintain your routines.

Routines don’t tax your brain or give it extra work to do; they are familiar and expected. A bedtime routine, for example—showering in a dimly lit bathroom, then applying lotion— prompts your body to relax.

Add other kinds of stimuli.

Talk with other adults, read a book, or listen to music. Does it provide just the right amount of stimulation? Too much? Try one at a time, observing how it makes you feel.

Change your sensory experience.

Light some candles, or use a diffuser with essential oils. Even easier than that: Dim the lights, or go outside for a change of scenery.

Get into a creative flow.

Try crafting, knitting, doing a puzzle, writing, playing music, or drawing. These activities can help you get into a regulating flow and calm your brain, and you can easily return to them after an interruption. Focus more on the process than the duration; 10 mindful minutes are better than a heedless half hour.

Take a timeout before doing something stressful.

Think about the most overwhelming part of your day, and take a 3-minute break beforehand. Walk outside, and just breathe in some fresh air. Opening a window, turning on a fan, or even grabbing a snack can help regulate and prepare you for what’s next.

Learn More About How to Navigate Life After Baby with Willow

Becoming a new mama is hard – your lifestyle changes, your body changes and you probably have a lot of unanswered questions. The good news is that you're not alone, and there are plenty of resources to help ease the transition. For expert advice and insights, visit the Willow blog today. You can do this!

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of medical professionals. It should not be used to diagnose or treat medical conditions or problems. Please contact your healthcare provider with questions or concerns.
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