Is Nesting Real?

Why do moms-to-be get crazy with cleaning and organizing?

Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on July 21, 2014

At some point during the third trimester of pregnancy (and possibly sooner), many women have strange new urges. They clean and organize, throw out, and stock up in a frenzy.

When Sandy McCauley was pregnant for the first time, she went on an all-out cleaning spree. "I took every article of clothing I owned to the dry cleaners, including rugs and comforters, and then cleaned all my hairbrushes and combs in hot, soapy water," says the Atlanta-based mother of four.

This overwhelming need to clean and organize during pregnancy -- called nesting -- has its roots in evolution, according to a 2013 study from researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Just as birds are hardwired to build nests for protecting their young, we humans are primed to create a safe environment for our new offspring.

"Sometimes the need to get your house ready is practical," says Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH. She's a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. There is also an emotional aspect to nesting, she says. Painting nursery walls and buying baby supplies gives you a chance to bond with your partner and start creating a sense of family.

Although it's good to rid your house of excess dirt in advance of your baby's arrival, make sure you do so safely. Read cleaning product labels to check that they're not toxic, and always wear gloves when handling anything you're not sure about. "Make sure you have good ventilation so you don't get overcome by the strong smell of cleaning products," Dolan says.

While cleaning and organizing are important, don't get so caught up in the small stuff that you neglect real health hazards to your baby -- like lead paint if you live in an older home. "That's not something you wipe and clean away. You'd need to have lead abatement to remove lead from your house," Dolan says.

Back to Basics

When you're caught up in the nesting instinct, it's easy to go overboard. There's no need to invest in every tool and gadget. Sometimes getting too much can be unwise.

Crib overload. "In an effort to make the crib seem friendly and lovely, people want to fill it with stuffed animals and pillows. Those present choking and sleeping hazards," Dolan says. Keep it simple -- a crib that meets current safety standards (check for a guide) with a firm mattress and a single sheet, where the baby should always be put to bed on her back.

Designer baby duds. Buttons, bows, and other accessories are pretty, but they can turn into choking hazards. Your newborn doesn't care about a fancy wardrobe. Keep baby clothes basic -- easy to clean and easy to access during diaper changes.

Expensive gadgets. The latest baby gadget might impress your friends, but it isn't necessarily best for your newborn. For example, diaper wipe warmers pose electrical shock and fire dangers, and sleep positioners can increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Expert Tip

"I was in residency after my daughter was born, so my mother and my mother-in-law helped out. Because I had this newborn going between three separate houses, my focus during pregnancy was on setting up a safe sleep environment in each place." -- Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH

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Show Sources


Sandy McCauley, Atlanta mom.

News release, McMaster University.

Siobhan Dolan, MD, MPH, professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women’s health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center.

March of Dimes: “Staying Safe.”

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