For me, stepping into the end of pregnancy is like stepping into another dimension. It’s like you’re inhabiting the same space as everyone else, but you’re not really all there. It is simultaneously isolating and comforting to inhabit this otherworld. I find myself retreating often, pulling inside, wanting space. Lately, I want to be home, to relax, read, care for my plants, sit in silence. When I have to leave my nest and venture into public, I’m dissociated from it. I don’t really want to talk to people. I want to be invisible.
So I’ve been wondering… is this common? Do other women feel more introverted, retreating into their nests, at the end of pregnancy? I don’t know whether it’s common, but a little Internet perusal has demonstrated that I’m definitely not alone in my isolation:
Now I find myself much more introverted than I ever used to be. The growing symptoms of pregnancy demand it in some ways. We get tired quicker, and our body doesn’t want to do the things it used to. There is so much going on inside, you can’t help but draw in on yourself during these last few months. –The Daily Soul Sessions
During the last month or so of pregnancy I become a severe cave woman. I nest to the extreme. I clean things that should never be cleaned, like ALL of my son’s toys or the bathroom mirror. . . . I avoid the phone, and I spend as much time alone as possible. . . . Now is my time to savor as much ‘me’ time; not engaging, interacting. –Trail of Crumbs
Anyone else start to feel almost reclusive in their third trimester? So I’ve always been a homebody, but lately I just want to shut out the whole world and only focus on myself and my husband. . . . Is that weird? . . . I wish I could just seal my whole world in a bubble and not let anyone in until I am ready. –BabyBumps Reddit Forum
I just don’t want to see anyone right now. Is this abnormal? Maybe the hormones are making me antisocial? I am generally a private, introverted person and visits take a lot out of me. –Alpha Mom
I have a few theories about why this happens for some women. One of those theories is based in our olfactory systems. I’ve written before that during the mate-selection process, women are naturally drawn toward the scents of men whose major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are different from their own. This ensures that offspring will have greater variation in their immune systems and gene pools which prevents miscarriage, autoimmune problems, and other issues. During pregnancy (or while taking birth control pills), however, this olfactory preference is reversed. Pregnant women actually prefer the smell of kin. Jenna Pincott explains:
Suddenly we’re no longer drawn to people who smell different from ourselves. We like smell-alikes–people with body odors that resemble our own. . . . Pregnant women may be more attracted to people who smell like kin and are more motivated to strengthen their relationships with them (Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy, p. 11).
It makes sense to me that our biology would drive us to pull away from “strangers” and surround ourselves with family during the vulnerable end-of-pregnancy period. We need support, and family members are those generally best-suited to provide that support and protection.
Another theory I have about this isolationism relates to the late-pregnancy surge in prolactin levels. I’ve written before that I suspect prolactin is largely responsible for what we call the “nesting urge.” During the last weeks of pregnancy, prolactin surges above progesterone and estrogen. It takes the lead.
I suspect that there is something about the combination of hormones and neurotransmitters at the end of pregnancy that leads to a steep decrease in dopamine. High dopamine levels will inhibit prolactin. So it makes sense to me that dopamine levels would be low at the end of pregnancy. High prolactin and low dopamine would naturally result in a significant reduction of sex drive–no surprise to any woman in her third trimester.
So what does dopamine have to do with my topic of the day? Apparently, introversion and extroversion are also connected to dopamine:
Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that provides the motivation to seek external rewards like earning money, climbing the social ladder, attracting a mate, or getting selected for a high-profile project at work. When dopamine floods the brain, both introverts and extroverts become more talkative, alert to their surroundings, and motivated to take risks and explore the environment (Source).
If dopamine makes us more motivated to go outside of our comfort zones and be talkative, and if my dopamine levels are currently lower than usual, it would make sense why I don’t feel like venturing out or talking much. Ordinarily, I’m more introverted than extroverted, but sort of in the middle of the spectrum. I suspect that right now, I’ve moved much further toward the introverted side of the spectrum.
It’s all fascinating to me–how slight changes in our brain chemistries can lead to such giant shifts in behavior. So if I seem stand-off-ish lately, it’s totally not you. It’s me and my third-trimester brain chemistry. xoxo
Do you find yourself seeking solitude at the end of pregnancy? I’d love to hear about your experience.