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Everything You Need to Know About Nesting During Pregnancy

Nesting in pregnancy is the urge to make your home germ-free, ultra-organized and impeccably designed. Here’s why it happens and what to do when the instinct kicks in.
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profile picture of Elena Donovan Mauer
Updated
March 3, 2022
pregnant woman nesting at home
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When you hear the term “nesting,” you might think of songbirds gathering twigs, grasses and soft leaves to make a cozy home for their hatchlings. But the impulse to create a safe, comfortable space to house and protect your expanding family is experienced across the animal kingdom—humans included.

At some point or another, many moms-to-be feel the overwhelming desire to redesign, reorganize and obsessively clean their living space—and this, friends, is what’s known as nesting during pregnancy. And yes, it’s totally normal. Here, experts explain exactly what nesting in pregnancy is, what might cause it, when to expect it and what you can do to satisfy those urges.

What Is Nesting During Pregnancy?

Nesting in pregnancy is “an instinctual urge to ‘ready your nest’ during pregnancy in preparation for birth and the arrival of a newborn,” explains Casey Selzer, CNM, a certified nurse midwife and director of education at Oula. Of course, the “nest” here refers to baby’s nursery and your home in general. “This increase in activity can translate to things like organizing and cleaning your home, creating a support plan for postpartum, and slowing down your social calendar.” So when you have a burst of energy and undeniable drive to scrub your floors, clear out storage closets, launder baby clothes and meal plan for the next several months, chalk it up to your nesting instinct.

What Causes Nesting During Pregnancy?

Experts aren’t entirely sure why the nesting instinct occurs, and studies on the topic are limited. According to Kalish, there is no scientific evidence that nesting while pregnant is biological. Still, some experts—and many pregnant women—believe nesting is instinctual and may be tied to the hormonal changes pregnancy brings, especially since it’s a maternal instinct seen in other animals as well.

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Its root cause may also be social-emotional. Selzer says nesting in pregnancy may play an important role in laying the foundation for your parent-child relationship with baby. And according to Robin Kalish, MD, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, nesting can offer “a sense of control during a period often filled with anxiety and uncertainty about the changes that are about to occur.”

When Does Nesting During Pregnancy Start?

Most women start nesting in the third trimester—specifically, around 37 or 38 weeks, says Rebekah Mustaleski, CPM-TN, a certified professional midwife and compression director with Motif Medical. A large 2013 review came to a similar conclusion, finding that nesting during pregnancy peaks in the third trimester.

Selzer says she’s had many patients even report going into labor soon after nesting, as they felt they were “finally ready” to welcome baby. However, “There is no direct correlation studied between nesting and the start of labor,” she adds, “so if you experience nesting early in pregnancy, it can be completely normal.” Some people may even experience nesting during the preconception period. It may manifest in financial, housing, familial or employment plans and help couples feel a sense of control over their journey to parenthood, she explains.

Plus, some people may experience nesting several times throughout their pregnancy—and others may never nest at all. “Some people will go through their whole pregnancy and never have the urge to scrub their floor by hand. But other women won’t even realize they’re doing something out of the ordinary until their partner or kids ask them what they’re doing,” Mustaleski says, adding it’s often beyond one’s control. “Nesting isn’t a thing that you can make happen or avoid if it does happen.”

What Are the Signs of Nesting in Pregnancy?

During the third trimester, you’ll likely feel sluggish and tired, thanks to a growing bump and plenty of hormonal changes—but when nesting strikes, you’ll experience a sudden burst of energy and intense need to focus on tasks that create a safe space and make you feel ready to welcome baby home, Selzer says.

Nesting during pregnancy often results in obsessive cleaning and organizing. “It’s being hyper-vigilant about dirt, germs or order in the home,” Mustaleski explains. “To some extent, you will find yourself giving in to a nearly uncontrollable urge to clean and organize.” It can also involve stocking up on items, decorating, planning and packing—whether it’s finishing the nursery, packing a hospital bag, buying the last of the baby and postpartum essentials or building out a birth and postpartum plan. You might also find yourself “slowing your social calendar,” Seltzer says, preferring to spend time perfecting your home for your coming arrival.

Extreme nesting

While you may not always be able to control that nesting urge, it’s important to pay attention to how you feel. If you sense yourself getting anxious when thinking about baby’s arrival, or if your loved ones tell you you’re going above and beyond, you might be experiencing extreme nesting during pregnancy. Signs can include:

  • Experiencing negative thoughts about your partner and beginning to distance yourself from them

  • Feeling increased fear and anxiety around labor, birth and the postpartum period and are more afraid than excited to welcome baby home

  • Making decisions based on your fears and anxiety

  • Having intrusive thoughts that cause physical stress, such as palpitations or insomnia

Of course, fear and anxiety are normal emotions surrounding childbirth, but if they start to take over your nesting phase of pregnancy, check in with your healthcare provider, Selzer says.

How to Satisfy Your Nesting Instincts During Pregnancy

The best way to satisfy the urge to nest in pregnancy is to give in to it. Using that burst of energy to check things off the to-do list can help you both satisfy the need to nest and make you feel more prepared to enter this new phase of your life. Do the things you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten around to, like cleaning out your closet, donating unwanted items and filling your freezer with meals for the postpartum period.

During the nesting phase of pregnancy, aside from cleaning and organizing the home, you may also choose to tackle your birth and postpartum plans. Look into and hiring a midwife or doula, organize your parental leave and find a pediatrician you’re comfortable with. “Get informed about decisions you can make and things you can control,” Selzer says. “[These] are tangible things that will help you feel secure and confident as you navigate the wonders and worries of the great unknown: life with a newborn.”

Another way to nest during pregnancy is to scale back on your social engagements and focus on time with your partner and on your own wellbeing. “Family and friends may mean well, but often too many ‘cooks in the kitchen’ can put pressure on your decisions around labor, birth and postpartum at a vulnerable time when you need space, privacy and to focus on building trust and connection with your birth partner and care team,” Selzer says. “When you have a newborn, your pace of life changes and your outside relationships adjust to new priorities. This is nature’s way of giving you time to transition slowly.”

Listen to your body

While crossing tasks off the to-do list may help you satisfy those nesting instincts, be mindful of how you expend your energy. Listen to your body every step of the way. Sure, it’s great to feel prepared, but it’s also important not to stress yourself out, for the sake of your health and sanity. Below, some ways to help reduce stress while nesting during pregnancy:

  • Make a physical checklist. This can help you stay focused and organized—and you can put it aside when you need a break, Kalish says.

  • Focus on baby’s primary space. This could be the nursery or your room, but stick to that one space to prep from top to bottom, Mustaleski says.

  • Reprioritize yourself. In those final few weeks, find ways to relax and reduce stress, Selzer says. There may be a lot to do, but your health comes first (and it will all get done eventually!).

If you have unrealistic expectations for what you can get done before the birth (news flash: it’s never everything), you’ll just wear yourself out trying. Know that plenty of it can wait until later. “While nesting can help get you organized and prepared for the baby to arrive, it’s important to remember to stay calm, pace yourself and accept help from others when it’s offered,” Kalish says. “Be patient and kind to yourself, and try to enjoy this amazing time!”

About the experts:

Robin Kalish, MD, FACOG, is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with expertise in high-risk pregnancies. She is also the director of clinical maternal-fetal medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center. She earned her medical degree from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and completed her residency at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York. Following her residency, she completed a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, where she has been a faculty member since 2003.

Rebekah Mustaleski, CPM-TN, IBCLC, is a certified professional midwife specializing in evidence-based maternity care, as well as a certified lactation consultant. She co-founded Roots & Wings Midwifery in Knoxville, Tennessee. Mustaleski received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Centre College and worked as a doula and birth photographer prior to establishing Roots & Wings.

Casey Selzer, CNM, LCCE, is a certified nurse midwife and director of education at Oula. She began her training as a birth and postpartum doula in 2002 and graduated Columbia’s Nurse-Midwifery Program in 2007. Since then, she has worked in Bellevue Hospital and, most recently, with Mount Sinai West.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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