Smarty Pants Mom: Nesting is a Real Thing

You know you have all the clothes you need, but for some reason you buy a couple more cute onesies...just in case. You double check your “baby items” list once more.

All good. Well...almost all.

Your fridge is messy and it is about time someone rearranged the spice cabinet. While you are at it, you might also check expiration dates, clean the linen closet, sweep the kitchen for the third time today, and Oh! PLEASE stop everything! That stain in the window is killing me!

Nesting is the instinct of pregnant animals to prepare a home for a newborn. Complex nesting behaviors can be observed in various animals. For white storks, building or repairing a big nest assures their fledglings’ safety. Baby storks learn how to fly on top of the nest, the bigger the nest the lower the probability of fall. Piglets are born with an undeveloped thermo regulating system, so pregnant mom pigs excavate depressions in the ground for piglets to keep warm. Polar bears double their weight before secluding into a self-dug den where they will have their cubs. In mammals, the nesting urge of eating, gathering food and securing a comfortable niche, is regulated by the hormones of progesterone, estradiol, and prolactin. Survival of a newborn is highly dependent on the home it will be welcomed to, so it is only natural that we have developed a biological mechanism to assure this happens. These hormones are also key to developing the mom-baby bond. This is such that when rats and rabbits nests are altered or if they are not allowed to build their nests, they suffer a prolactin deficiency. This hormonal scarcity results in these animals being unable to have a bond with their offspring and not ever creating an attachment towards them.

In humans, there is both a hormonal component as well as a social factor involved in nesting. This instinct works as a physiological guarantee that things will be ready for the multiplication of the specie. From a social perspective, there are expectations that determine what a home or a mom should be. This motivates us to try our best to have all ready and perfect for the arrival of our baby. Prolactin doesn’t only prepare woman’s physiology to allow breastfeeding, but it also acts like a neuromodulator. The release of Prolactin after birth can diminish libido and heighten motherly behavior. This combination is responsible for maybe finding your husbands hug as an invasion of your personal space, but impossible to get enough from kissing your baby’s feet!


Maite is a mom of 3, a Cognitive Neuroscience PhD, Psychologist & Education expert and owner of Neubuco LLC. She offers her knowledge of applied neuroscience to everyday life here at LH.