Ready, steady, nest!
All about your nesting instinct
“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.”
WHAT IS THE NESTING URGE ALL ABOUT?
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.
PUT YOUR NESTING INSTINCTS TO GOOD USE
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!
DON’T BE AT ALL CONCERNED IF THE NESTING URGE DOESN’T STRIKE YOU. THAT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL, TOO