Manic stations: the nesting instinct in pregnancy

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As her due date loomed, Kylie Johnson was gripped by the compulsion to cook like a woman possessed. She found that cooking gave her the feeling that she was prepared and ready for whatever was coming her way.

"I've got two kids, and in my last couple of weeks of each pregnancy I made over three months worth of freezer dinners," Kylie says.

"I went absolutely nuts over preparing meals. I tend to get a bit frantic, or completely mental, in the last few weeks, and my husband learnt it's safer to go to Bunnings and let me cook.

"The stack of plastic takeaway containers growing in my freezer gave me a sense of control and readiness."

But her frenzy didn't end in the kitchen: Kylie also washed, folded and inventoried all of her baby clothes. And when she decided she needed to accessorise the nursery, her desire to nest suddenly reached epic proportions.

"I set up the nursery, and decided it needed new curtains. I got them but then I still wasn't happy … so I bought a house. Seriously, a house! We got the keys the day my daughter was born, and my poor man and our families moved everything while I was in hospital."

It might sound like temporary insanity, but almost obsessive nesting as you near your due date isn't uncommon – even if you're not usually a particularly clean person.

"Normally, when it comes to house work I do the bare minimum," says mum of two Kathy Rhoden. "But when I went on maternity leave with my first baby I became totally obsessed with cleaning our house. I had a massive clear out and scrubbed every inch of the house."

It's one thing to desire a clean home for your new arrival, but the nesting obsession can take hold and overrule good sense.

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"The day I found myself balancing on the edge of the bath with a mop in my hand trying to clean the ceiling was the day I realised I had to calm down," says Kathy.

"I was probably a couple of weeks from giving birth at that point, but I was the size of a small nation. It was very dangerous."

In her career as a registered nurse and midwife, Lisa Berson has seen all kinds of interesting and even dangerous nesting behavior. She can still only speculate as to its causes.

"I haven't heard of any scientific or medical reason for nesting, but some people believe it is a primal, instinctual urge to prepare the home environment before the baby arrives, which has been set down by our ancestors," says Lisa.

"Other people are of the belief that nesting is more an emotional release to rid the mind of any worries or stressful tasks before the birth. I believe it's a combination of the two, as in some of the births I've attended, once the nesting duties have been ticked off the list and the other children are in care of relatives or friends, then the woman feels free to go into labour."

Much like an attempt to deny pregnancy cravings, there's little point in trying to deny the urge to prepare your home. But keep safety in mind: it's best to keep the housework fairly light and employ help if the task is a big one.

"My advice to women who are taking on major cleaning and nesting jobs is to take it easy and get some rest – especially in the first pregnancy, when labour can be longer than expected, as you will need all that energy for the labour and birth," says Lisa.

"If you feel the need to get those random, out of the ordinary cleaning jobs done, then either pay someone else to do it, start your spring cleaning earlier in the pregnancy when you're able to get some rest, or invite some friends or relatives over to help you – or just live with it until after the baby is born."

It's believed nesting occurs for a number of reasons, including boredom, excitement and anticipation, but don't be concerned if the preparatory urge doesn't strike you. It doesn't come naturally to all pregnant women, much to the disappointment of Kellie Wilkinson's husband.

"I worked all the way through with my first baby, so I'm guessing I just didn't have time to think about cleaning or nesting, but then I didn't do it with my second baby either," she says. "My husband just kept saying, 'I can't wait to see you nesting and cleaning in a frenzy', but it just didn't happen. I just never had the inclination."

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