Sleeping for Two: What Is Nesting?

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, then, yes, 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 the 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 of 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. With 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 have the instinct in terms of evolution, 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 of 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 cleanlinessspeak 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.

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