When you've been giving your all to your children, both mentally and physically, you'll likely reach a point where you feel you have nothing left to give. If you're breastfeeding, your body takes an even bigger hit. By the end of the day the idea of having to do anything for anyone else can make you recoil in disgust. Basically, you're "touched out." But how do you explain that feeling to people who just don't get it? What does a breastfeeding mom really mean when she says she's "touched out"? Actually, it can mean a lot of things, and some of them don't even have to do with physical touch at all.
A mother's body is a great source of comfort to her children, and provides them with warmth, reassurance, protection, and nurturing (just to name a few warm and fuzzy feelings). A breastfeeding mom's body is all that and more to her child, who relies on it for nourishment and comfort. No wonder moms who breastfeed feel so drained at the end of the day from endlessly giving. This feeling is often described by moms who breastfeed and co-sleep as being "touched out". While the definition is pretty obvious — a mother has so much contact with another human (their child) they don't want to be touched by anyone else — it can truly mean a myriad of things.
Never has the phrase, "he just wants me for my body" felt more apt then when I was breastfeeding each of my two sons. Sometimes it felt like they were completely unaware that a person was attached to the breasts that they were furiously sucking, chewing, gnawing, or lazily resting their lips on until I decided to pull my body away. By the day's end I only wanted to lie in a hot bath and submerge my body under water and simply hear the sound of my drain. The job of tending to children can be a lot of sensory overload. There is so much touching and a lot of noise. Even for someone like me, who likes being touched and enjoys affection, it can feel like it's just too much.
I imagine it must be hard for partners of the touched-out moms, too. Especially for the working partners who probably don't experience touch most of the day, then come home and crave some kind of physical contact (a hug, holding hands). The good thing is, the touched out feeling isn't a forever feeling. Eventually, and at least for me, it passed. That doesn't mean that, until I was no longer touched out, I didn't mean a number of things when I said I needed to be left alone. So for other breastfeeding moms out there, maybe this will help clarify some of your own feelings, too:
"I've Basically Been Someone's Pacifier, Schlepper, & Open Bar All Day"
A breastfeeding mom is hardly ever "off duty." Even in her "resting state" her body is still hard at work, producing precious milk for her offspring. By the end of the day she's been a constant source of sustenance she probably hasn't even had the chance to pee.
At any given point in the day, especially when I was nursing my infant and dealing with his toddler brother, my body was in constant demand. My infant would either be nursing, using my breasts as a comfort object, or insisting that I hold him in order for him to fall and stay asleep. His brother, meanwhile, also wanted the royal treatment, and made me carry him everywhere (in my other arm), sleep in his bed until he fell asleep (usually while his baby brother cried from his bouncer in living room). The first year with two kids under 3 was brutal.
"You Can Touch Me Only If You're Going To Give ME A Foot Massage"
It is true, you guys. If a breastfeeding mom says she doesn't want to be touched, what she really means is she doesn't want to be touched in a way that doesn't benefit her and only her.
If, however, you were to offer something such as a non-sexual neck massage or foot rub, she probably wouldn't turn that down. Just don't expect anything in return.
"Please Do All The Things Right Now"
Partners: If you've just come home from work, or whatever has kept you away from the house and kids, and a breastfeeding mom says, completely unprompted, "Honey, I'm touched out", she is sending you a passive aggressive warning that says, "Please finish the household chores that need to be done because I just can't right now."
When my husband came home from work and I felt like I didn't get anything done because breastfeeding robs you of time and energy, I threw him the line about being touched out. And it wasn't always about being touched out, but it was my signal (passive, I know, but I'm not perfect) that I needed help. I just couldn't do a damn thing more than I'd done than keep children fed with breast milk and Special K with Berries and change a few diapers.
"I Need You To Take Our Child Off My Hands For At Least 30 Minutes"
Sometimes when a mama says she's touched out, she just wants you to remove the small human in her hands from her person and hold onto that human for at least 30 minutes while she stares at her pores in the mirror for a while. She also wants you to prohibit said small human from crawling into her room looking for her or her breasts. For the love of God, don't ask her where the baby's blanket is (it's on the living room couch), or where we keep the wipes. (Seriously? You don't know by now?)
"Don't Even Consider Sexual Things Happening Today"
Breastfeeding moms really feel their partners's pain. It's not that they don't have sexual feelings. They do, it's just not at opportune times (what is up with the libido being in full swing at 10:30 am?) and the feelings aren't always directed at their partner (why am I suddenly thinking about my prenatal yoga teacher?). They most certainly aren't happening at the end of a long day of breastfeeding a little person.
"Someone Else Needs To Be The Horsey From Here On Out"
On the days when I was just so tired from everything, I would lie on the floor to feel the cold, hard surface below my body. It felt firm and buoying to the soul. Then the next thing I knew, my toddler would be jumping on me demanding that I pretend to be a carousel horse. Not just a regular horse that travels forward, but the kind that also can move up and down. See, not a square inch of my body was spared from being touched by my children, especially when I was breastfeeding. When I told my husband I was touched out, I also told him it was his turn to be the carousel horse. This ride was closed for the night.
"I Just Want To Watch 'The Handmaids Tale' Alone & With A Glass Of Wine"
After the kids were asleep, I felt like I had earned my episode of whatever I was binge-watching on Netflix at the time. Sometimes I tried to muster the energy to watch a show with my husband, but even sharing space with another person was too much at times. There were nights when I let him know I just needed to watch a show alone on the couch with a large glass of wine and both of my heating pads on maximum heat level.
"I Have Nothing Left To Give Another Human At This Time. Please Call Back Tomorrow."
A breastfeeding mom isn't like, "You know what I would just love right now? To do more things for another person!" So when she says she is touched out, she is also letting the world know that she is signing off for the day. Well, not really, because in all likelihood she will be attending to the needs of her children in a matter of hours. If her experience is anything like mine was, she will be up multiple times a night with either of her children, meeting demands for ice cubes in sippy cups, nursing them to sleep, or trying to find a space for them in her bed where she won't get kicked in the face.