New Dads, Beware the “Nesting Urge”

In the period immediately before they reproduce, most birds and mammals experience what is commonly known as the nesting urge. This is an instinct whereby the female goes into a frenzy of preparing a safe space for their newborn to live. Rabbits dig a burrow. Birds build a nest. Cats find a dark corner in the garage. Pregnant women create nurseries. Now, although your wife hopefully won’t be up a tree making a little basket out of twigs, cotton, mud and saliva, the nesting urge will usually manifest itself in its own cute way. 

It is unavoidable. It’s a hormonal thing. In women’s brains, just under the hypothalamus, there is a small gland that secretes nesting-urge hormone (N-UH). When this gland starts operating, you will notice some changes in your wife… such as an absence of logic, no concept of reason, a demand for exceptional tidiness and cleanliness and a strong desire to make major architectural changes to your home. 

As a young married couple, we were fortunate to be able to live in my old family home. We decided to make a room for the baby in my old bedroom, which had remained as a fire-engine-enamel-red ‘den’ complete with a pool-hall-style rice-paper lampshade, old car licence plates on the wall, a fanboy original Han Solo poster above the bed and other decorations that screamed “teenage boy”. 

Yeah, I know. Cool. 

All the furniture was built-in and connected at different levels: bed, cupboards, bookshelves, drawers and a desk. A perfect room for a baby! So I thought. But… apparently not.

I remember the day clearly. Returning from work, I pulled into the driveway and immediately knew something was awry. This was primarily because of the large mound of red splintered wood in the middle of the backyard, which curiously reminded me of the bedroom furniture I had as a boy. In a daze, I made my way into the house, clambering over an enormous roll of shredded carpet that I could swear wasn’t there when I’d left for work that morning. In the now empty shell of my old room, I found my excessively pregnant wife, bathed in sweat and grime, blithely chiselling sheets of old paint and wallpaper and licence plates off the walls. Half the room was already stripped back to bare, grey concrete. Han Solo was nowhere to be seen. 

I stood there for a while, mouth agape, before I spoke. “What are you doing?” I asked in dulcet tones, keeping my eyes low, so as not to be seen as a threat. 

“Making a nursery.”


“I thought a nice yellow would do. We can sand back the picture rails so they’ll match the floorboards. Of course, we’ll have to sand those back too.” 

“Uh-huh,” I said, slowly backing out of the room, trying not to make any sudden movements. At that point, I felt a headache coming on, so I went off for a good lie down. 

When the nesting urge comes, don’t fight it. You’ll only make things worse.

Peter Downey is a dad of three and author of the bestselling So You’re Going to Be a Dad, which has been updated for the dads of 2020 in its 25th anniversary edition.


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