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Nesting behaviours during pregnancy: Biological instinct, or another way of gendering housework?

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Abstract

Nesting is a hormonally-determined set of behaviours, observed in some animals, relating to the preparation of the space in which the offspring will be born and raised. Texts on childbirth and pregnancy advise women that they will experience nesting behaviours during pregnancy, causing them to tidy, clean, and prepare their living space. In this paper, I analyse the discussion of nesting behaviours on popular pregnancy websites. I then investigate the evidence base for nesting in humans through conducting a systematic review of the academic literature, and conclude that it is inadequate to ground the claims made in the popular discourse. The article concludes by presenting social explanations for nesting behaviours which are more plausible than the proposed biological narrative. These explanations make reference to the influence of gender stereotypes and the specific pressures experienced by women during pregnancy.
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... While analogies need not be perfect to be efficacious, an important point of disanalogy must be engaged with: under ordinary circumstances, diseases are always unwanted, whereas pregnancy is in many cases desperately wanted, which would make it a strange kind of disease. 20 Further, I have criticised the medicalisation of women's bodies, only to describe pregnancy-which is considered by many to be a "normal" part of the life-course of many women-as pathological, which seems contradictory. My response to these objections is that while unwanted pregnancy and wanted pregnancy may be biologically identical, their social interpretations ought to be as different as a long-term illness is to an exciting new opportunity; the first tends to limit one's life, the second to further one's life goals. ...
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Zusammenfassung In heutigen Schwangerschaftsratgebern ist oft von einem Nestbauinstinkt zu lesen. Demnach würden Schwangere von einem Trieb ergriffen, die passende Umwelt für ihr Kind zu gestalten, also Babyausstattung zu kaufen oder die Wohnung zu putzen. Dabei bildet das Konzept des Nestbauinstinkts eine spezifische Wissenskonfiguration: Während es im populären Bereich verbreitet ist, nimmt es im wissenschaftlichen Bereich eine marginale Position ein. Im vorliegenden Beitrag soll der historischen Epistemologie dieser Wissensform nachgegangen werden. Im Vordergrund stehen folgende Fragen: Wie formierte sich das Wissen um einen Nestbauinstinkt in der Schwangerschaft? Auf welche Weise wurde das Nest als spezifische natural-anthropogene Umwelt hergestellt? Und inwiefern interagieren hier Vorstellungen von Geschlecht und Umwelt? Dazu nimmt die wissensgeschichtliche Analyse die Perspektive einer longue durée vom 19. Jahrhundert bis heute ein. Die Untersuchung ergibt eine graduelle Feminisierung des Umweltkonzepts im Wissen des Nestbauinstinkts. Während er im 19. Jahrhundert oft als männliches Verhaltensmuster galt und das Nest ein Analogon zum Wohnhaus bildete, transformierte sich der Instinkt in den ersten Jahrzehnten des 20. Jahrhunderts zu einer primär weiblichen Eigenschaft, bei der das Nest für den Innenraum des Zuhauses stand. Dabei zirkulierte das Wissen zwischen verschiedenen Bereichen, wofür eine maßgebliche Bedingung war, dass sich das Nest zum ‚metaphorischen Ding‘ wandelte. Als solches führte das Nest nicht einfach zu einer Naturalisierung, sondern bezeichnete einen familiären natural-sozialen Zwischenraum, der zunehmend zum Ziel weiblich konnotierter Sorge-Arbeit wurde.
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