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Tips for Surviving as a Highly Sensitive Mom of Young Children – Part 1

As a highly empathetic or highly sensitive (HS) mother, the early years of parenting have been profoundly rewarding–and deeply challenging. I have often wondered why it just feels like things are harder for me when it comes to parenting. Why is it that, no matter what I do to try to take care of myself, I still struggle to handle things? I look at other moms and wonder how they seem to be able to do it all. How do they tolerate the noise, the mess, the chaos, and all with such ease? It seemed like all the parenting advice out there just wasn’t written for me. I felt like there was something different about me, as a mom and as a person. I just wasn’t sure how or why. When I realized I was highly sensitive, it helped me realize that I really did need to adjust how I approached parenting. And if you resonate with me, you might too.

What does it mean to be highly sensitive?

A mother sits on a bed while looking to her left with an anxious expression. This could represent the stress that highly sensitive mothers can experience. Learn more about how therapy for highly sensitive people in Los Angeles, CA can offer support by searching for postpartum support in los angeles, ca today.

Highly sensitive people are individuals who have increased central nervous system sensitivity to physical, social, and emotional stimuli. This can look like heightened responsiveness to internal experiences, like hunger or pain, and external experiences, like heat or loud noises. You might be easily overwhelmed and ‘tipped over the edge’ by crowds, caffeine, uncomfortable clothing, or strong emotions (positive or negative). You likely prefer forming deep, empathetic bonds with others. You might find yourself having a deep appreciation for art, and being easily moved by music or movies. If you experience any, or all, of these, you may be Highly Sensitive (HS) too. 

And as a highly sensitive mom myself, my heart goes out to you. The early years are so hard! To start, I want to remind you that you are doing a great job, no matter how bad you might feel as a mom right now. In this two-part blog series, I will share with you some insights that might be helpful for you as you navigate the choppy waters of parenting young children. This first article will address one of the most important considerations as a highly sensitive mom–overstimulation. If your sensory stimulation is poorly managed, it can seriously put your mental health at risk and impact your parenting negatively.

My #1 tip – Beware Overstimulation (No, Seriously!) 

There are about a million ways for a highly sensitive mother to get overstimulated with an infant, toddler, or young child. From crying babies, dirty diapers, and messy kitchens, to toddler tantrums and sibling fights, it’s almost impossible not to get overstimulated. And it’s important to understand that you are not your best self when overstimulated, through no fault of your own. Overstimulation can be your biggest kryptonite as a parent, and learning how to manage your sensitivity can make or break you.

So, what is overstimulation exactly? Imagine your brain is working overtime with no breaks, for days or months on end. At some point, you will eventually reach a point where your brain will just start shutting itself down. Or it will get so burnt out with exhaustion that you will notice yourself becoming irritable or going into fight/flight mode. You may even experience somatic symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, or brain fog. In today’s digital world, our brains are already bombarded with constant stimulation. As a new mom, however, you are suddenly catapulted into an even more hyper-stimulating environment, without much guidance on how to survive it. Overstimulation in your role as a new mom is a serious issue for your nervous system. Prolonged, unaddressed overstimulation to your senses can put you at risk of postpartum anxiety and depression, and ultimately push you towards a breakdown.

Here are some situations that might be overstimulating for you as a mom with young children:

The sound of your baby crying can feel piercing to your soul.

A baby’s cry is not just a cry for help, or at least it doesn’t always feel like that. It can feel like your baby has an emergency siren, ready to sound the alarm for immediate attention at a moment’s notice. To a non-HS mom, answering a baby’s crying is just a normal part of parenting. But to an HS mom, with your baby’s frequent, and regular, crying, it can feel like your nervous system can never get a long enough break to recover. Postpartum can feel especially challenging for you, since you are likely needing more rest than you’re actually getting. This means that your brain is even more sensitive. This overstimulation can quickly overwhelm your brain, and lead you to feel like you might explode at the next crying episode. It is absolutely necessary for you to take some time for yourself, especially in these early days. Going for a walk alone outdoors or just spending some time away from your children can give your brain a much needed break. 

Breastfeeding and cuddles may feel unpleasant. 

A mother stands while cuddling her baby against her chest. Learn how postpartum therapy in los angeles can offer support with highly sensitive mothers. Search for highly sensitive person treatment in Los Angeles, CA to learn more about the benefits of overcoming postpartum symptoms in Los Angeles, CA.

From the moment your baby is born, you are told by everyone that breastfeeding is best for the baby. So you may find yourself enduring months, and even years, of pain and discomfort to keep breastfeeding as long as possible for the wellbeing of your child(ren). For the highly sensitive mother, who experiences bodily sensations and direct stimuli more intensely, this can be even more difficult for you. For example, you may be more sensitive to the physical sensation of your milk coming in, the engorgement, the blocked ducts, or the pain of your infant learning how to breastfeed. If you need to return to work, pumping, while convenient, can still feel extra painful and tedious. And that’s not even accounting for breastfeeding complications, which can be even more stressful, exhausting, and isolating.

Additionally, while some mothers can relish the sweet closeness of breastfeeding with a child, you may find yourself feeling absolutely “touched out.” It can feel almost claustrophobic to be touched by your children all the time. In response, your nervous system may begin to numb itself from bodily sensations to cope. Yes, of course, your baby is adorable, and you love them. But truthfully, they are extremely messy, with babies drool, vomit, burps, and poops happening at a moment’s notice. Some days, you might just be one touch away from losing your mind. Breastfeeding, and everything that comes with it, can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health.

If this all sounds a bit familiar to you, I want to give you permission to transition your baby to a bottle for your own mental wellbeing. Ultimately, what matters most is that your baby is fed, and that you are doing well physically, mentally, and emotionally. Breast is not always best, so please focus on doing what works best for your family (which includes you). If breastfeeding, or not breastfeeding, brings up extremely strong feelings of guilt, shame, grief, or sadness for you, seek a qualified therapist to help you process things. Whatever decision you make, this process can lead to postpartum anxiety and depression for many mom’s, including the HS ones.

Mommy & Me’s may not be right for you.

In those early months of your baby’s first year, you may be dying to find some connection with other moms who are in the trenches with you. While Mommy & Me’s can be a great way to meet mom’s with similar-aged babies, the truth is that these groups may feel overwhelming and overstimulating for you. Imagine twelve overtired moms with crying babies in a small room and a facilitator speaking loudly over the cooing and crying, all while you are trying to keep tabs on your own baby’s needs. If you are already feeling like you don’t even have a moment to breathe, an overcrowded room isn’t going to help. Plus, if you’re overwhelmed, you won’t feel up to connecting with the other mom’s anyway. You might find it easier to bring your baby to a library storytime or a local park, where you can meet other mom’s at a pace and rhythm that are more accessible to you.

A child sitting at a dinner table reaches into a bowl while holding a cereal spoon in the other hand. This could represent the challenges of highly sensitive parents that therapy for highly sensitive people in Los Angeles, CA can address. Learn more about postpartum support in Los Angeles, CA and how it can offer support today.

You may have a harder time teaching your baby and toddler how to eat solids and start potty training. 

While it can be exciting and rewarding to introduce solids and toilet train your young child, these milestones can be especially difficult periods for highly sensitive mom’s. Mealtimes and potty training can be particularly messy and loud endeavors. With feeding especially, this inherently requires a certain level of chaos – food on you, food on your baby, food all over your kitchen, etc. Plus, the constant running around for clothing changes and potty breaks can feel exhausting. All of the training and cleaning to keep track of can feel overwhelming and distressing, and can really take a toll on your brain. Teaching your little one to eat solids and go potty can be stressful for any parent. But heightened sensory and emotional sensitivity can make the messiness of both feel absolutely unpleasant. It is necessary to learn to give yourself grace, delegate, outsource, and find ways to reduce the chaos as much as possible. For example, feeding your toddler drier foods, as opposed to saucier foods, can mean easier clean-up. Asking a partner or family member to take on potty shifts can help too.

Toddlerhood will be a challenging season for your mental wellbeing. 

For non-HS mom’s, advice such as leaving the dishes and ignoring the toys on the ground can sound like practical wisdom for survival. For highly sensitive mom’s, the visual clutter might not feel like an option. Seeing the mess all the time can stress you out more than leaving it be for a time when you have more energy to clean. Over time, this constant stimulation can lead to ongoing irritability, and make it hard for you to be present with your children. While it seems impossible, it might be helpful to find ways to keep your space more organized. The fewer the scattered toys on the ground, the fewer external stimuli your brain has to manage. When your children are younger, it can be meaningful to have support with cleaning, even if that means hiring someone occasionally. And when your children are older, you can teach them to be part of clean-up rituals with you.

Beyond the clutter, the tantrum years can come with intensely challenging tantrums. It can be very normal, and even age appropriate, for your toddler to have a tantrum. This is a time in their life in which they are learning boundaries and emotion regulation. However, that can mean you might be dealing with intense crying, screaming, and even hitting. If you are highly sensitive to loud noises, the piercing yells can feel absolutely overwhelming. As important as it is to be there for your child to help them regulate, you can only do that if you are somewhat regulated. I give you permission to step away if you need to. Take some deep breaths to calm yourself, or use noise-canceling earplugs or headphones to give yourself a little more headspace. It can help to talk yourself through it too. Just remember, it is not your fault if you feel overwhelmed during these intense moments.

Dealing With Overstimulation

These are only a few of the many possibilities for overstimulation that you might encounter as a highly sensitive mom. I know that can feel overwhelming in and of itself, but you don’t have to change everything all at once. You can start with determining the parenting aspects that you find most overwhelming and make changes accordingly. For example, you might consider how you can make time and space for self-care. Or you might ask for external support in minimizing your sensory triggers. In Part 2 of this series, we will delve into some other tips for highly sensitive mom survival. 

Begin Postpartum Therapy with a High Sensitivity-Affirming Therapist in Los Angeles, CA or New York today!

At our Los Angeles, CA, and New York City, NY-based therapy practice, we have many therapists who can help you navigate the complicated dynamics of being a highly sensitive mom of young children. For your added convenience and simplicity, we offer online therapy for anyone in the state of California or New York. We know that your role as a mom and your overall well-being are both important, and we want to help you feel empowered in these early years. Follow the steps below to begin.

Other Services at Yellow Chair Collective

There are many options for treatment using online therapy in California and New York, it just depends on what you’re needing. And while we certainly service Asian American folks, we also work with individuals from other cultures, too. So, whether you need support in overcoming anxiety, burnout, trauma, or PTSD, we can help. Likewise, we serve teens and couples in need of support, too. So when you start online therapy with us, you can bring your whole self, including past struggles, cultural impacts, and more.