Being pregnant

Pregnancy nesting is the real deal

No, you’re not a bird, but if you’re expecting, you’re probably engaging in “nesting” behaviours. Here’s what you can expect—and how to know if you’re taking it too far.

Whether it’s obsessively searching for just the right shade of paint for the nursery, folding receiving blankets into perfect piles or finally taking on that small kitchen renovation (to be completed just in time for your due date!), the act of prepping for your baby’s arrival — a.k.a. nesting — can take many forms. 

What is nesting, anyway?

The urge to prepare the nursery and clean every inch of your house is actually instinctive. According to a study from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., the nesting compulsion to clean experienced by many moms-to-be stems from an adaptive behaviour from our evolutionary past. It’s animal instinct, in fact. We often see it in nature: Many species spend time scouting safe dens that are free of predators, ensuring that they are close to food and water sources and, in some cases, actually feathering their nests before their offspring arrive. Likewise, moms-to-be feel an intense urge to clean, organize and optimize their baby’s new home. Interestingly, researchers also found that pregnant women become more selective about the company they keep and focus on people they really trust, which probably relates to the urge to create safe surroundings for their baby’s arrival.

The nesting urge can kick in anytime during pregnancy, but researchers at McMaster University found that it peaks in the third trimester. This offers further proof of the power of this instinct because pregnant women also report feeling the most physically exhausted during the last three months. No wonder it’s not uncommon to hear a very pregnant woman report that she spent an entire afternoon standing on a step stool, holding a paint roller in one hand and propping up her enormous belly with the other, because she was so determined to finish painting her baby’s room. It happens. All. The. Time.

Is my nesting extreme?

Although you could argue that spending hours on your nursery-decor Pinterest board is pretty much primal, it is possible to take it too far. If your baby isn’t due for another four months but you’re losing sleep over assembling the crib in time, you may have moved into an extreme form of this prenatal behaviour, says Kristin Heins, a registered psychotherapist with Thrive Natural Family Health in Toronto who focuses on prenatal and postnatal maternal mental health. “If it becomes obsessive or hinders your day-to-day functioning, we need to look at underlying anxiety or other mental health pieces that we need to support,” she says. Skipping meals to wash another load of new onesies and ditching work to focus on home repairs are other red flags. Or if your nesting behaviour is damaging your relationship with your partner or other people in your life, you might need help, she says. If you’re concerned about your nesting behaviour, talk to your maternal care provider, who can support you directly or refer you to a mental health practitioner.

Nesting: keep cleaning in perspective

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the nesting jobs you may want to do, from scrubbing out the fridge to organizing baby clothes to prepping the nursery. Heins recommends pausing to step back and take stock. “If a woman feels very overwhelmed by getting a room ready, we can check that against the fact that her baby will be in a bassinet anyway,” she says. After all, a baby won’t really even use their room until they’re halfway to their first birthday. (It’s recommended that babies sleep in a crib in your room for the first six months to reduce the risk of SIDS and promote breastfeeding.)

One strategy is to make a list of everything you actually need to do compared to what you want to do. Ask yourself what’s really essential for your baby’s arrival. You can even organize your to-dos in a work-back schedule if that helps you feel more in control of things. Another option is to delegate jobs that you don’t have time for to family and friends, says Heins. If your mother-in-law has been asking what she can do, ask her to research strollers or baby monitors. It can be difficult for some people to accept help, but once your baby arrives, you’ll really need it, says Heins. “I’m a single parent, and it has become clear to me that raising children can also be a community experience,” she says. “Calling on the support of loved ones to prepare for your baby’s arrival is actually preparing you for taking on help when things get hard.”