Ready, steady, nest!

All about your nesting in­stinct

Your Pregnancy - - Contents -

“WHAT ARE YOU DO­ING?!” This was the as­tounded ques­tion Manny Ranaka asked his wife, Ler­ato, when he got home from work one evening to find her stand­ing on a lad­der in their bed­room, glu­ing up wall­pa­per. Manny’s prob­lem wasn’t with Ler­ato’s choice of wall­pa­per de­sign, even though, he ad­mits, “I didn’t even know what wall­pa­per was un­til my wife started plas­ter­ing our bed­room walls with it.” The prob­lem was that Ler­ato was nine months preg­nant. And stand­ing on top of a 2m-high lad­der. Ler­ato ad­mits now that she “went a bit nutty”. “I saw a pic­ture in a dé­cor mag­a­zine of a beau­ti­ful bed­room that had been wall­pa­pered, and I just went for it. I mea­sured the room, went and bought the wall­pa­per and glue, and started putting it up. I don’t know where the urge came from.” Sci­en­tists do. “Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in the jour­nal Evo­lu­tion & Hu­man Be­hav­ior, nesting is an evo­lu­tion­ary in­stinct in preg­nant women that stems from a de­sire to pro­vide a safe and pro­tected en­vi­ron­ment for their in­fant,” says clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist Lameze Abra­hams. “The authors de­scribe hu­man nesting as ‘mea­sur­able changes in be­hav­iours and at­ti­tudes re­lated to birth prepa­ra­tion that hap­pens dur­ing preg­nancy’, char­ac­terised by bursts of en­ergy, usu­ally in the third trimester, and usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by clean­ing and or­gan­is­ing.”


Ma­ter­nal nest-build­ing is trig­gered by the hor­monal ac­tions of estra­diol (a form of oe­stro­gen, an im­por­tant fe­male sex hor­mone pro­duced by the ovaries), pro­ges­terone (also pro­duced by the ovaries, pro­ges­terone plays a role in main­tain­ing preg­nancy), and pro­lactin (best known for its role in en­abling mam­mals to pro­duce milk). Nesting is an evo­lu­tion­ary adap­tion that gives ex­pec­tant moth­ers a sense of con­trol over their own en­vi­ron­ment, and goes some way to en­sur­ing a safe and se­cure place for her­self and her baby to bond, sur­rounded and sup­ported by those she trusts. In­deed, part of the nesting urge, says Abra­hams, is the mother-to-be se­lec­tively choos­ing to spend time with peo­ple she trusts. Many of the be­hav­iours as­so­ci­ated with nesting, in­clud­ing an over­whelm­ing urge to clean and or­gan­ise in prepa­ra­tion for the un­born baby, are adap­tive and en­sure a safe en­vi­ron­ment that pro­motes bond­ing and at­tach­ment be­tween the mother and her in­fant,” she ex­plains. Il­lus­trat­ing the al­most ir­re­sistible power of the nesting urge, “this mech­a­nism usu­ally emerges in the third trimester when, para­dox­i­cally, the mother is most fa­tigued,” Abra­hams adds. While very preg­nant women have been known to do what seem to be out­landish things, such as tak­ing on clean­ing an en­tire house armed with a tooth­brush, Cana­dian psy­chol­o­gist Marla An­der­son, the co-au­thor of the 2013 study “Ev­i­dence of a Nesting Psy­chol­ogy dur­ing Hu­man Preg­nancy” says, “Nesting is not a friv­o­lous ac­tiv­ity. We have found it peaks in the third trimester as the birth draws near and is an im­por­tant task that prob­a­bly serves the same pur­pose in women as it does in other an­i­mals.” Fe­males in the rest of the an­i­mal kingdom are all equipped with this same very strong urge: dogs near­ing their due date may build a nest with items from around the house such as blan­kets, cloth­ing and stuffed an­i­mals; cats of­ten make nests by col­lect­ing and gather­ing soft ma­te­ri­als in a cho­sen quiet corner; and in birds, this brood­i­ness is of­ten char­ac­terised by their in­sis­tence to stay in the nest as much as pos­si­ble. But don’t be at all con­cerned if the nesting urge doesn’t strike you. That’s per­fectly nor­mal, too, and it means noth­ing about the kind of mother you’ll be.


Women have re­ported throw­ing away all their sheets and tow­els be­cause they felt the urge to have brand-new ones. TRY IN­STEAD Out­fit your baby and your­self. Make sure you’ve got all the new­born es­sen­tials: one­sies, booties, plenty of nap­pies and bum cream, baby soap or aque­ous cream, cot­ton pads and nail clip­pers. And for you, buy nurs­ing bras, nurs­ing pads and easy­open shirts, soft, breath­able, over­sized un­der­wear, and plenty of su­per­ab­sorbent maxi pads. One woman said she re­moved all the han­dles on her kitchen cup­boards, just so that she could dis­in­fect the screws. TRY IN­STEAD Do all the laun­dry in your home that doesn’t get washed reg­u­larly, such as du­vet cov­ers, throw rugs, re­mov­able sofa cov­ers, spare tow­els and spare linen, be­cause when baby ar­rives, your wash­ing ma­chine will never stop work­ing. And if your nesting urge still isn’t sat­is­fied, go ahead and do a deep-clean: wipe down win­dowsills and skirt­ing boards, dust pic­ture frames, blinds and shut­ters, and vac­uum be­hind and un­der so­fas, chests and arm­chairs. Don’t be silly about it, though: ask some­one to help you with any heavy lift­ing, and stay off lad­ders! One woman re­ported putting to­gether a huge recipe file, and even buy­ing equip­ment such as a set of casse­role dishes that she thought she’d need to cook all the won­der­ful new meals she was plan­ning.

TRY IN­STEAD Re­or­gan­ise your fridge: get rid of all those jars and bot­tles at the back that you know you’re never go­ing to use, and stock up on key es­sen­tials such as milk, cheese, yo­ghurt, salad greens and fruit. And stock your kitchen cup­boards too, con­cen­trat­ing on healthy con­ve­nience foods such as soups, nuts, whole­grain crack­ers, tinned beans and toma­toes, and brown rice and pasta. And if you have en­ergy over, cook plenty of freezer-friendly meals (lasagne, bran muffins, savoury mince, veg­etable cur­ries), put them in sin­gle-meal con­tain­ers, mark them clearly, and store them in the freezer. You’ll thank your­self in weeks to come, when push­ing “start” on the mi­crowave is all the en­ergy you have left for food prep!


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