Is Nesting a Thing?

I’m a list writer. I’d go so far as to say I’m a list fanatic. So last week when I accidentally deleted my 90-item-strong list from my phone, I felt seriously bereft! You might be wondering what on earth I’m doing with my time if I’ve still got 90 to-do tick boxes to tick. But the vast majority were ‘things I need to clean’, ‘things I need to sort through’ and ‘things I need to organise’.

Nesting has kicked in – big time - and it feels uncontrollable! It feels really, really important that our tinned foods cupboard gets fully cleaned out (and organised by type) before the baby arrives. Likewise, if the drawers of my bedside table aren’t de-cluttered soon, or our ‘full of crap’ tin isn’t emptied, I just won’t feel ready for our new human.

When I was pregnant with my son 7 years ago, I didn’t really get many food cravings. I would often know exactly what I wanted to eat, but there were no gherkin/ice-cream combos. However, I felt a growing addiction to fabric softener and it had to be a particular brand; I would have drunk it if I could have. I used to buy it in bulk in fear of them running out or discontinuing it! We had bottles and bottles of this stuff, but having it there made me feel calm; that my baby’s clothes and linen would smell just right. I realise now that was less of a craving and more of a nesting instinct. I even ironed all his new baby clothes, and I seriously never iron anything. I woke up in the middle of the night once, panicking that I hadn’t ironed all his Moses basket sheets. I mean, that is just not my personality!!

So what is it that makes us nest when pregnant? To feel the sudden urge to clean, or sort, or organise stuff - RIGHT NOW. For starters, it’s not just us humans; birds, fish, pigs, cats and dogs are amongst the many animals to display nesting behaviours when preparing for birth. Rodents, hares and rabbits all hunt for the lowest, sheltered spot available to give birth; perhaps we share that attribute as many women do seek to be lower towards the ground as they're giving birth. Female dogs show signs of nesting by pacing, and using items from around the house such as blankets and clothing to build their dam, or nest. Again; seeking out homely, comforting, safe things is essential in getting the right hormones going for birth.

Lots of studies have been done showing the cocktail of hormones these animals experience which leads to them to building their nest; increased oxytocin and prolactin, driven by increased prostaglandin and decreased progesterone. But the studies in human are far from conclusive and everything I read leads to ‘we’re not really sure’. The animals’ nest building is ‘performed in order to provide sufficient shelter and comfort to the arriving offspring’ – I think we definitely mirror this, in wanting everything to be just right. If you dare delve into Pinterest, there are thousands of nesting ideas and tips - it's certainly a real phenomenon!

I’ve no doubt that hormones are responsible in part for our human nesting instinct; our whole body and mind change during pregnancy. But I also wonder if somewhere during the second trimester we get the urge to retain some control and that nesting calmed our nerves. But does our need to protect and prepare morph into obsessive or anxiety-driven behaviour? As long as you’re being safe (not lugging steam cleaners up and down stairs or balancing on chairs to reach the must-be-dusted light fittings) then grab that toothbrush and scrub the skirting boards if that’s your thing. Nesting can feel very therapeutic, and if it helps you feel positive then I’m all for it. However, pregnancy anxiety (often triggered by feeling like ‘there’s so much to do’) can be very real, and hugely overwhelming. What with the nursery decorating, the equipment buying, the cleaning and of course getting on with your daily life, it’s no wonder our partners sometimes arrive home to tears. Here are a few ways to alleviate the pressure if the nice, comfy nesting starts to make you feel out of control.

  1. Talk to someone. Your midwife, doctor or even just a friend over a cuppa. It will always help, and you are certainly not the first person to feel this way.
  2. Make lists. They really do help and the accomplishment of ticking things off is super satisfying. (Does anyone else sometimes add an already completed task to a list just so you can tick it off?!)
  3. Delegate. This is not the time to take on every single task; ask for help (or make your partner a list!). People are kind, and someone will love to take on a few things for you (my lovely mum is busy batch cooking for my freezer for easy post-baby meals).
  4. Focus on the birth. Take some time out from preparing your home to prepare your body and mind for birth. Learning breathing and relaxation techniques can really help during pregnancy too, not just for the big day.
  5. Break it down. Is everything you want to do absolutely vital? Picking out the urgent and important stuff first will start the ball rolling and feel like you’re ticking off the big things.
  6. Be kind to yourself. Feeling nervous about a new arrival can take its toll. Remember you want to be reserving some energy stores for your birth and beyond so taking it easy is also very important.

Nesting can manifest in many different ways. Some mums-to-be might want to buy up half of B&Q ready to DIY the whole house. Some may want to wash and arrange baby clothes, or simply just like being at home and pottering. Just leave the bleach in the cupboard, nest sensibly and relish this opportunity of having the time to make your house clean...

Now, I’m off to dust off the iron; there are muslins that need de-creasing!