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If you’re pregnant and have some notion of what “nesting” is, you may be thinking, “not me!” You’re a modern woman—not a mother hen! But if you’ve recently been seized by the need to clean, organize, unpack, decorate, stock up, and settle in? Yup, that’s nesting.
Nesting, which typically happens in the third trimester, is perfectly normal, and even practical. It may include such obvious baby-prep activities as buying a crib, stocking a changing table, or decorating a nursery. But nesting can also encompass other “getting ready” bursts of activity around your home (or workplace), such as cleaning, cooking, purging unnecessary items, or getting finances and paperwork in order.
Got nesting questions? We’ve got answers:
Why is it called “nesting”?
You’re not a bird, of course—but your home is your nest. The term may derive from birds building nests to cradle their eggs and hatchlings, but much of the rest of the animal kingdom exhibits forms of nesting, too. In the wild, it’s about finding a safe space—warm, near food, and reasonably protected from predators. Isn’t that … kind of how you feel about your home too?
Is nesting hard wired?
It may well be. There haven’t been tons of scientific studies about nesting, but at least one, conducted in 2013 at McMaster University in Toronto, Canada, and published in Evolution & Human Behavior, found that many pregnant women experience a surge of energy and compulsion to do at least some sort of cleaning, organizing, and preparing in the later stages of pregnancy. The researchers’ conclusion should help you feel less like you’re a crazy person as you fold your zillionth onesie or clean the corners of the nursery again: the behavior serves as a way to make sure the environment we’re bringing our baby into is safe and cozy. It also helps you emotionally prepare for the sea change that’s about to happen; the work you’re doing is a way to feel closer to this person you’ve yet to meet. Think of nesting as an early form of bonding.
What if I don’t feel like cleaning or painting the nursery?
It’s normal to nest. It’s also normal not to exhibit those signs. That said, you may be doing your version of nesting and just not realize that’s what it is. For example, you may find yourself settling in to read books you haven’t gotten to, or sorting through your finances, or calling old friends. The point is we may all evolutionarily have the instinct, but it’s not as evident in every person. Whether or not you can point to anything in particular you’re doing that qualifies as “nesting,” it doesn’t reflect on the health your pregnancy, or on how good a parent you’re likely to be. Remember, too that not all moms-to-be can nest—for example, if you’re on bedrest, go into labor early, or are adopting a baby and have little time to prepare.
I’ve found I don’t want to do much outside the house right now. Is that part of nesting?
It very well could be. Many soon-to-be moms experience nesting not as a flurry of cleaning or organizing activity, but as an instinct to burrow in at home, and/or to surround themselves with only their partner, close friends, and family.
Does nesting ever indicate something’s… wrong?
Not in itself, even if it does feel like Martha Stewart has taken over your brain! But on a serious note, if you find yourself feeling unduly anxious—say, you’re losing sleep over things like car seats and cleanliness, speak to your healthcare provider.
Does nesting mean I’m about to pop?
No. If you finish assembling the crib and then your water breaks, it’s purely coincidental! Nesting urges may start earlier in pregnancy, but they peak in the third trimester, and it’s not anything physical or indicative of impending labor.
A final thought: What may feel and look frivolous on the outside (who really cares if the nursery walls are seafoam green or cornflower blue?) can actually have a powerful meaning. Nesting is your instinctive way to throw a switch in your mind, from your old self to your new. What’s about to change, after all, isn’t the decor in your former guest room, but your identity. Nesting isn’t only about making room in your home for baby, but in your heart.
My daughter was born on a snowy day in March. We brought her home in a gender-neutral cream-colored snowsuit that was so enormous it floated around her tiny body like she was a doll. We spent twenty tense minutes at the hospital door desperately trying to buckle her car seat around the endless mounds of extra fabric. First-time parents, we had clearly not understood the actual size of a newborn baby. With the realization that we were responsible for this little being, came the other realization that we were going to need to go shopping.
Our case was extreme. I have always been superstitious, plus I did not want to know the baby’s sex, so I had bought nothing beyond the crib and stroller during my pregnancy. I just couldn’t imagine committing to a color palette or setting up a room before the baby’s arrival at the door. Now it seemed that we were woefully unprepared in every way as I raced to put together a registry and wish list for friends and family. I nearly cried with joy when my brother-in-law spontaneously showed up with socks for the baby on Day 2 - socks?! How could we have not thought of that???
It was with great relief that the gifts began to arrive, some in person and some by mail. The best gifts came from those families that also had little children and clearly saw the situation for what it was - new parents plus newborn equals chaos! These people sent their gifts by post and made sure that they were easily returnable. They tried to make our lives easier. They didn’t linger in our home expecting the baby to like being held by them or actually smile. But for those who haven’t been there yet, the following are some gift ideas for the new family.
Help a mom out: The gifts that focused on “me” as an actual individual and improved my well being were truly appreciated. I had a 30-hour labor (my OB’s record!) and still felt kind of yucky for weeks. The colleague who brought me expensive bath gel and lotion and perfume was my new best friend. It made me feel so much better. Other ideas for mom: post-natal massages, at-home services for nails or hair (since you have no time to leave), flowers, accessories (if you are familiar enough with her taste).
Registry review: If they registered for it, they clearly want it. It’s an easy one, don’t fight it. Also, a gift certificate to Amazon is always welcome. It will be used. Your creativity is not being tested, the obvious choice can be the best.
Feed a family: The need to actually feed yourself becomes a continual burden once you are on a three-hour sleep cycle. Bringing or sending (even better!) food and drink to new parents is an underrated gesture that brings much happiness.
Sleep needs: A newborn spends about 16 hours every day sleeping. The crib is essential, as are all of the swaddling blankets and the crib mattress. A durable and easy-to-clean crib mattress is a no-brainer for a gift (organized with the blessing of the parents.) New parents learn that swaddling helps sleep and swaddling blankets are in constant demand. They are also cute and can be used in countless ways.
Personalization: When the haze of infancy is gone, it’s hard to get rid of things with the baby’s name on them, those things tend to be the keepers. Some of the “best of the best” for me included personalized stationary for “thank you” notes for all the gifts, step stools that transitioned all over the house for years, and other useful things like bathrobes and towels, and burp cloths. On a more formal note, a silver feeding spoon makes feeding feel fancy. It is an instant classic, sure to be passed on and treasured.
Your purchase of a Newton Crib Mattress.