The Science Behind Pregnant Nesting

Chelsea Day

Pregnant nesting is the term given to the urge to clean and organize your home before the baby comes. While it may seem odd to clean your home and organize your cupboards while you are pregnant, doing so may actually help you a ton during the first few weeks after the baby arrives.

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Nesting is a term that describes numerous behaviors that pregnant women often experience during the last weeks of pregnancy. By that point, the baby is constantly moving and growing. He or she is also preparing for the big day with a lot of stretching and kicking. This is most noticeable at night, when the baby’s often lying in a specific position. He or she may be lying with his head turned to one side, or he or she may be lying with his feet on one side of your uterus.

By this point, moms are likely to be feeling a lot of discomfort, including aches, back pain, headaches, and swelling in their legs and feet. It seems counterintuitive that this is when she wants to hop up and organize ALL the things, but research shows that this can help prepare her body – and her home – for the baby in multiple ways.

When I had my first baby, my urge to clean was insatiable. It was odd for me, the woman who used to leave dishes out overnight and toss shoes haphazardly into a heap in the bedroom. I used to think the whole “nesting” thing was just an excuse for organized type A parents. But as baby time drew nearer for me it was all cleaning, ALL the time.

My husband came home from work one day to discover his 9-month-pregnant wife precariously balanced atop a ladder in a desperate attempt to get at the dust bunnies above the refrigerator. “So…many…germs!” I muttered in a hormone-driven frenzy.

Researchers agree: nesting is a completely instinctive behavior, ingrained in our bodies as adaptive behavior from history. “Nesting is not a frivolous activity,” shares Marla Anderson, lead author on a study from McMaster University in an interview with CBC News. Scientists have found that women develop increasing bursts of energy and the urge to organize as the third trimester progresses.

Moreover, women become increasingly selective about the company they keep as baby time draws near, exerting precise control over their environment and choosing only to be around people they trust. It’s a phenomenon that’s doubly impressive considering how exhausted most women are by the third trimester.

The study followed both pregnant and non-pregnant women to explore the psychology behind the nesting urge, finding that pregnant women feel inclined to provide a safe environment for their children in the same way that animals in the wild do.

Studies conducted on rats and rabbits have shown that when animal’s nesting materials are disturbed, they become troubled and distracted to the point of actually failing to properly care for their newborns. Many researchers point to the increasing levels of prolactin later in pregnancy as being the driving force behind our urge to make our habitat more hygienic.

What Causes Nesting?

Nesting is an innate, instinctive behavior that’s present in both humans and animals as the birth of their baby draws near. Female dogs pace and gather blankets. Cats often bring straw and cloth scraps into a chosen corner. Birds refuse to leave their nest, sitting for long periods of time and refusing to lay new eggs. The hormones that cause nesting include estradiol, progesterone and prolactin, all of which play a part in driving both human and non-human mothers to shelter to ensure the success of their offspring.

When Does Nesting Occur?

Most expectant mothers experience nesting instincts in the third trimester of pregnancy, though the nesting instinct can begin even earlier, in the second trimester. The nesting instinct will always peak in the third trimester, but you may feel an urge to nest for the first time in the second trimester. The nesting instinct is an extremely common and natural pre-birth occurrence.

Safe Ways to Nest

I don’t recommend standing on a ladder to clean the fridge (or your gutters, or basically anything high up). There are also some safety concerns about pregnant people being around paints and cleaning products with certain fumes. That said, there are plenty of fun and safe ways to prepare for a baby! You can go ahead and get the nursery ready, stock the fridge, clean all the bathrooms, mop the floors, prepare the baby’s outfits / diapers / formula or pumps and other feeding apparatuses.

Now is also a good time to use that energy for making plans about employment, childcare, and health insurance as your family changes.

What to Stock Up on for Baby

There's a lot to pack for having a baby at the hospital – and just as much to focus on at home while you’re waiting for them to be born! You’ll want the obvious essentials taken care of, like diapers and clothing, as well as fun extras like toys, decor, and nursery furniture. When you're a nesting mom-to-be, it might feel like you can never have too many baby items on hand! Do keep in mind that with a new body coming into your home, space may be at a premium – and you are going to have to care for, clean, organize and put away all of that stuff.

Look Forward to Nesting

Whether you're a first-time parent or a veteran with multiple nesting attempts behind you, you'll probably agree that the nesting phase of pregnancy is one of the most exciting parts of the whole experience. Whether it's your first baby or your fourth, you'll likely experience some degree of nesting each time you are pregnant.

For some it is a way of preparing for the new arrival and creating a safe space for your new baby. For others it is a way of getting your home ready to be shared with your baby and your partner. In any case, if you find yourself scrubbing the sink with a toothbrush, rest assured that this is perfectly normal behavior. If you can’t help but organize those onesies twenty times or dust the baseboards until they gleam, just blame it on baby.

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Helping parents live simple and satisfying lives. Our homeschooling family loves to learn, and in our spare time (hah!) we RV travel and flip houses.

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