Feathering the Nest – explaining the ‘nesting’ instinct


If you’re due to give birth soon but find you have an uncontrollable urge to clean the house, tie up loose ends and organise everything, then don’t be alarmed – this behaviour is completely normal.

The “nesting” instinct refers to an urge in pregnant animals to prepare a home for their upcoming newborn/s. It is found in a variety of animals (both mammals and birds). Domestic cats, for instance, bring straw, cloth scraps, and other soft materials to a selected nook or box. In humans, the nesting instinct can occur from as early as five months of pregnancy, but is strongest just before the onset of labour.

The act of nesting puts a woman in control and gives a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes nesting can bring about irrational behaviours such as throwing away sheets and towels because they felt a strong need to have new, clean ones, cleaning the floors by hand with a scrubbing brush or colour-coding your wardrobe.

Here’s a few tips for pregnant mums out there who may get the nesting urge:

  • In the final weeks of your pregnancy, don’t start painting the baby’s room. You need to avoid exposure to oil-based paints, old paint that may contain lead and some latex paints that contain mercury. Water-based paints can be used but always check the label. If you are painting at any time during your pregnancy, make sure the room is well ventilated, wear protective clothing and gloves, and never eat or drink in the painting area.
  • When cleaning, try to use less chemicals than normal. Look at using eco-friendly cleaning products, or better still, use some natural alternatives like bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Avoid oven cleaners, dry cleaning products, and never mix ammonia with chlorine-based products like bleach or cleanser, as the combination will produce toxic fumes. Wear rubber gloves, and try not to overdo it.
  • If you have pets, always wear gloves when cleaning up their mess and avoid yard work or gardening as the soil may be contaminated.
  • For some women, the nesting instinct can mean cooking lots of meals and filling up the freezer. If you do prepare meals in advance, make sure to keep spices to a minimum if you are breastfeeding, and make foods high in protein.
  • Make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of injury. Trying to squeeze yourself into kitchen cupboards to clean them out, or climbing ladders is not a good idea. Also be careful if you intend to move furniture around or lift heavy items. Wait until your partner is home, then tell him what you want done.

It’s interesting to note that men who are expecting a baby often feel the need to clean and organise as well. Many start looking for a new job, work on their car, or landscape the garden. The nesting instinct can be a blessing, as it’s better to be organised before the birth than bring your baby home to chaos.