It's not uncommon for moms to feel "touched out," but not every parent or caregiver knows what it means to be "touched out," what causes it or how to avoid that overwhelming, irritating feeling.
Amy Malofy, 39, recalls the specific moment she realized she was a touched out mom. The mom of one had just finished moving from Nevada to Maryland, along with her wife and their 1-year-old daughter.
"We were finally settled and unpacked and the baby was having a hard day," Malofy tells TODAY.com. "She hadn't slept well the night before, so I hadn't slept and she just wanted to be held."
While trying to clean, Malofy says her daughter "crawled to me and was pulling herself up on my leg."
"I was already overwhelmed from moving and unpacking," she adds. "My daughter wouldn't stop crying, she just wanted to be held and comforted and I just wanted to clean the kitchen."
Feeling a visceral aversion to touch, Malofy yelled at her daughter in a moment of frustration.
"She cried harder," Malofy says. "Then we both cried on the kitchen floor for about 30 minutes."
What Does Being 'Touched Out' Mean?
Dr. Linda Ojo, a reproductive psychiatrist, says the phrase "touched out" explains the "overwhelming discomfort from receiving physical touch after being immersed in physical touch all day."
"(It's) a feeling that if one more person touches you, you will crawl out of your skin," Ojo tells TODAY.com. "A typical example is the breastfeeding baby latched to mom for much of the day with a toddler grasping at her ankles, sticking their finger in your ear or simply cuddling with you."
Leslie S., 34, says she first felt "touched out" after the birth of her third child.
"I was trying to nurse her and our two toddlers wanted to also be held, so I sat on the floor with them both in my nap and nursed the baby," Leslie, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her family's privacy, says.
"One of the girls had been hospitalized, my husband had just undergone meniscus knee surgery, both older children had been very sick for several weeks and I was still working ... I felt overwhelmed and deeply desired time to myself."
Ojo explains that in the simplest of terms, feeing "touched out" is a type of "sensory overload," adding that a "lack of personal space" and "overstimulation from noise" can also serve as contributing factors.
Leslie says he felt guilty about being "touched out" because her children's "desire to be held is intrinsic and part of their development."
"I also struggled with the contrasting deep love I have for our children and wanting to fulfill their needs, and the desire to use the restroom alone," she adds.
Saima Toppa, a psychotherapist who focuses on pregnancy, fertility and maternal mental health, says it's common for mothers to feel guilty when they're "touched out."
"There's this guilt that comes up — the idea that 'I can do more,'" Toppa tells TODAY.com. "A critical part of self-care, as a mother and a parent, is to recognize your limits. The phenomenon of being 'touched out' is a way to recognize you're at the brink.
"If you're feeling that aversion to physical touch," she adds, "that's a sign that you need a more aggressive self-care approach."
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How Feeling 'Touched Out' Can Impact Romantic Relationships
Ojo says that while the "touched out" phenomenon is often restricted to conversations surrounding breastfeeding and toddlers, it's not uncommon for the feeling to extend to a parents' romantic partner(s).
"The underlying distress may be coming from losing control of your body," she explains. "After a full day of being incessantly touched and poked and prodded and suckled on, it's not a stretch to imagine that there is no desire to be touched by a partner. This can certainly impact intimacy and in some cases cause parents to reject their partners."
Malofy says that "feeling touched out definitely changed my relationship with my wife."
"There was a lot of misplaced resentment," she says. "My wife was frustrated because I didn't want to be touched, and I was frustrated because I missed my wife. I missed the intimacy."
A 2019 study published in the journal Sex & Reproductive Healthcare found that having a child "represented a new focus, resulting in a form of intimacy that as more sensual than sexual" between parenting partners.
The study also found that "pain, fear and new priorities changed couple's intimacy, making their sex life a challenge."
"You can love your child and crave space from them," Toppa says. "You can love a partner and still want space. This is the existential state for humans."
How To Avoid Feeling 'Touched Out'
Olivia Howell, 38, co-slept with her two sons and as a result says she was "touched out for years."
"I felt like I never had one second of physical space for myself," Howell says. "It was definitely detrimental to my mental health."
After years of feeling like her body wasn't her own, Howells says she hit a breaking point one evening when her boys refused to go to sleep.
"I was so frustrated," Howell tells TODAY.com. "I'm a single mom, it was during the pandemic, and I remember going into their playroom and screaming so loud — I had to get the feelings out of me somehow."
Howell then texted a friend and said he was "waving the white flag."
"She's a sleep specialist, so she ended up helping me get the kids on a sleep schedule and back into their own beds," she adds. "That changed my life completely."
Toppa says it's necessary to "re-evaluate your life and your current self-care regimen" in order to set boundaries that can keep a parent from feeling "touched out."
"It might be something simple, like going outside for a walk without your children or partner for 10 minutes," she says. "It might mean going to the gym or reconnecting with friends."
Toppa also says that finding ways of "reconnecting to yourself" and "feeling your own strength and resilience" can also help.
"Connect to whatever gives you that life-force," Toppa adds. "Once you care for yourself, most people will be able to turn towards the meaningful relationships in their life again."
What The 'Touched Out' Phenomenon Says About Modern Motherhood
Ojo says moms often feel guilty for being "touched out" because they're told they're "they're supposed to love their children unconditionally."
"This is in complete contrast to the sometimes visceral negative emotions a mother may feel towards a child," she says. "Two things — feeling touched out and being a loving parent — can co exist."
Moms are more likely to feel touched out because they are still doing the majority of the childcare and housework, despite a historic number of moms also working outside the home.
Feeling "touched out" is also associated with a loss of bodily autonomy and brings up questions and issues surrounding consent, Toppa says.
"When you're pregnant, you experience this other being inside of you and the feeling that your body is not entirely yours," Toppa says."Then your child grows, becomes a baby then a toddler, and you're being touched and touched not always with your consent and not always in a welcomed way.
"There's a lot of emotional ramifications for that," she adds.
Amanda Montei, mom of two and author of "Touched Out: Motherhood, Misogyny, Consent and Control," says those emotional ramifications are "directly tied to the way in which, culturally and politically, we see motherhood as tied to self-sacrifice and erasure of identity."
"There are accusations that if you show up as a full person ... you are narcissistic or selfish," Montei says. "And there's this burden on women to fix this feeling rather than see it as a social, political and economic issue (and) a symptom of a broader maternal mental health crisis."
In 2012, a federally funded National Maternal Mental Health Hotline was established in response to a rise in maternal mental health issues. In one year, the hotline received more than 12,000 calls and texts, according to data first shared with NBC News.
Toppa says the stigma associated with feeling touched out is why more moms should talk openly about this phenomenon.
"It's part of how we heal from being touched out," she says.