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If you wake up with an out-of-the-blue desire to scrub your floors, tidy up your baby’s dresser full of onesies, and repack your hospital bag for the — ahem — eighth time, the sweet maternal phenomenon known as “nesting” might be upon you.

This natural instinct is known as an intense drive to nurture and prepare your baby’s environment. This can be channeled into:

  • cleaning
  • organizing
  • developing birth plans
  • limiting your social gatherings

It can even take the form of protecting your home prior to your tiny bundle’s arrival.

But is nesting driven by nature or nurture? And could it be a “sign” that baby is coming very soon, as your grandmother may have told you?

If you feel like you’re flying into the nesting zone, nestle in, mama — it’s normal. Let’s look at why it might happen, what it could mean, and how to get through it in a healthy way.

Maybe you’re an uber organizer who’s slightly more obsessed with getting every rubber ducky in a row. Or maybe your usual type B personality has been hijacked by a hyper-focused alter (pr)ego. Whatever it is, there’s a likely reason you’re wired this way, mama bird.

In fact, some researchers have suggested that nesting is due to a somewhat programmed adaptive human behavior to prepare for and protect an unborn baby that stems from our evolutionary roots. At its core, nesting is about taking control of your (and baby’s) environment.

While the “cause” of nesting is unknown, it’s often associated with the hormonal changes that occur throughout pregnancy. Alternatively, nesting behaviors could be coping mechanisms for general or pregnancy-related anxiety and stress.

Results from a 2013 analysis of two studies — one of which was a longitudinal study in pregnant women through postpartum and the other an online survey comparing the responses of pregnant and nonpregnant women — revealed that women’s nesting behaviors peaked in the third trimester.

The study identified nesting behaviors as those that involved preparing space and being more selective with social interactions and surroundings.

Interestingly, the pregnancy hormone estrogen, levels of which peak in the third trimester, could be a factor in this maternal baby prep. That sudden surge in stamina that’s allowing you to dust from dusk to dawn? It might be attributed to estrogen’s ability to boost your physical activity and energy levels.

While the most common time to nest is the final weeks before delivery, you may experience it at any point during pregnancy or postpartum — or not at all. Even people who aren’t pregnant can experience nesting.

Several behaviors might indicate nesting among moms-to-be, including:

Cleaning

You may have never looked at that spot on the floor like you’re looking at it right now — that smudge is haunting your dreams as a potential vector of doom.

In all seriousness, it’s very common for pregnant women to become focused on the cleanliness of their environment, knowing that baby’s immune system is fragile and more susceptible to disease. Dusting, mopping, doing laundry, and scrubbing until everything is spick-and-span are common traits of the nesting phase.

Stocking

Preparing for everything and anything you might need immediately after baby’s arrival is one way to nest.

If you’re up at midnight filling your online shopping cart with nursing pads, diaper cream, and home supplies that will cover you from birth to 3 months, it’s a sign that your sights are set on stocking up on the essentials (and maybe just a few extras).

Organizing

You’ve stocked, laundered, and cleaned, and now there’s a pile of baby shower gifts sitting in the middle of the nursery. All at once, it’s both a joy and unsettling sight.

The intense desire to have it all organized and easy to access is a frequent characteristic of nesting. This can include everything from preparing baby’s nursery to tidying up every space, from the pantry to your closet.

Packing

Prepping for baby and motherhood means a whole lot of packing, so it’s no wonder that nesting provides a good warmup. Packing (and repacking) your hospital bag, diaper bag, diaper caddy, and more can be a telltale sign that you’re getting ready to rule the roost.

Planning

Nesting isn’t just about your immediate surroundings — it’s also about planning how you’d like baby to enter the world and all that baby might need after delivery. This means that your mind might be consumed with everything from birth plans to nursing classes to selecting a pediatrician.

Protecting

Protecting your little one is at the core of everything you do. So it’s normal to be super vigilant about babyproofing your home, limiting visitors, going a bit overboard with hand sanitizer, and being more selective with social commitments.

It’s all about creating the safest environment possible for you and your new pride and joy.

Nesting is incredibly common, but there’s no proven reason as to why or when it happens during pregnancy.

You may have heard the rumor that getting a nesting feeling prior to a positive pregnancy test could be a “sign” you’re pregnant. Or maybe you’ve been told that if it happens during the last trimester, labor is imminent.

But despite the correlation with hormonal spikes, there’s little research to support any one theory.

Satisfying your nesting instinct without going overboard is important for avoiding physical or emotional stress or injury.

If you find yourself obsessively cleaning the same thing five times or staying up until the wee hours of the night to decorate the nursery, it might be time to assess your well-being and consider these tips to nest without feeling overwhelmed.

Set limits for nesting activities

Activities such as rearranging furniture or mopping the floors can be physically taxing on your body while pregnant. Set a timer that will alert you to take a break to stretch, get some fresh air, or put up your feet.

Also, avoid lifting anything too heavy, as doing so can lead to strain or injury. And remember that if you’re cleaning with chemicals or solutions, a good safety practice is to use gloves and stay in a well-ventilated area.

Be mindful of your feelings

Sometimes, nesting can be a fruitful coping mechanism to deal with stress or anxiety. Pregnancy can spur a lot of these feelings related to the upcoming delivery and transition to motherhood.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, nesting within reason can be a good outlet, but also consider talking to your OB-GYN, midwife, or someone else that you trust.

Make a nesting plan

Instead of facing a daunting list of nesting chores, approach it with a plan that prioritizes tasks within a realistic timeframe. That way, you won’t feel so rushed to do everything all at once. This will also help empower you to prepare your environment in a positive way.

Focus on your needs

It’s easy for nesting to be all about baby, but remember that you need some self-love as well. Take time to nurture yourself as you prepare for childbirth and your new mommy status.

Maybe it’s a prenatal massage, pedicure, night away with a friend, buying a few new outfits for postpartum comfort, or dentist appointment that you’ve been putting off — whatever it is, make nesting about you, too.

Trust your instincts

With pregnancy comes a lot of advice from family, friends, and even complete strangers. Some of it may be welcome, and some of it can seem intrusive or confusing.

If others are pressuring you to “nest” or do pre-baby activities that don’t align with your timeline and values, it’s OK to say thanks, but no thanks. Talk to your OB-GYN or midwife for sound medical advice, and know that you are the ultimate expert about what feels right for you and your baby.

Nesting is a natural instinct experienced by many expecting mothers, most commonly in the last trimester. While it can cover a wide range of activities and behaviors, the central driver is taking control of your environment to create a safe, calming, and welcoming space for baby and motherhood.

Nesting can be a healthy way to cope with pre-labor jitters, but if it becomes something that’s harming your physical or mental well-being or begins to concern you, it’s important to talk to your OB-GYN or midwife for help and guidance.