I don't remember the specific day the baby fever first hit me, but I remember the day I realized I was powerless to it: It was a weekday evening; I'd just come home after a day of meetings and events and tight deadlines, and to relax, I decided to flip open my laptop and watch some YouTube videos. But instead of unwinding to a beauty tutorial or a vegan cooking show, I found myself binging on video after video of new mothers and their babies. Indeed, I was neck-deep in mommy vlogs, aka videos of women in their 20s and 30s walking their viewers through their daily lives as new parents. Whitney Port has a mommy YouTube channel where she talks about everything from her maternity wardrobe to her struggles with pumping, which I marathoned for hours. There were a couple teen mom channels I found myself totally glued to, too.
By the time I caught myself watching my third tutorial on how to get an infant to properly latch onto your nipple to breastfeed, I knew I was out of my mind. I am not even close to having a baby. I am 26, extremely career-focused, and I'm also newly single with no realistic mating partner in sight. I didn't want to experience baby fever, mind you. In fact, for months, I was so embarrassed about it that I didn't tell anyone for fear they would judge me for turning into a mushy-gushy stereotype who was valuing her uterus over her ambitions. I literally cleared my browser history every night so no one would ever see how many breastfeeding videos I was secretly watching. (Which, trust me, is as surreal for me to write as it might be for you to read.)
And yet, this mysterious, uncontrollable urge in the pit of my stomach telling me "YOU WANT TO HAVE A BABY" raged on. I had to wonder, why the hell was this baby fever happening to me?
What's somewhat comforting is that according to science, baby fever is a real thing, it's not only women who experience it, and it doesn't mean you're brainwashed or crazy. A 2012 study out of the Journal Emotion found that the urge to have a baby is not simply a product of society's expectations or the desire to couple up—instead, "there's something distinct that's going on where people want to have children specifically," says Gary Brase, the study's author and a psychology professor at Kansas State University.
So what does cause baby fever? Brase and his team found that it's often a combination of A) being around babies and B) having the circumstances in your life line up such that raising a child might actually make sense. In my case, both of these factors did sort of apply. One of my closest friends was pregnant at the height of my mommy-vlogger obsession, and I was also more financially stable than I'd ever been.
Brase and company analyzed about 500 tweets hashtagged #babyfever and discovered that people usually took to Twitter to discuss their spontaneous urges to procreate right after being around a (happy, not crying) baby. For example, "I finally got to see the cutest little angel yesterday, and her sweet momma… #babyfever." Positive sentiments often came from people in romantic relationships, while more negative tweets expressing feelings like jealousy or loneliness (e.g., "I just want a baby to cuddle with, is that too much to ask? #babyfever #singleproblems") usually came from single women. (Guess it's a good thing I don't tweet.)
I also suspected my age might have had something to do with my baby fever—I once read a slightly terrifying article stating that 25 was the best age to have a baby (though the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that the reproductive prime for women—the ones whose bodies beget childbearing, anyway—extends to the age of 32.) And yet, experts say that age might have nothing to do with baby fever. Shannon Clark, an associate professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, told USNews.com that "there is no one biological or physiological process that's responsible for baby fever." Some women might feel it when they're 20, some might not feel it until their 40s, and some might never feel it at all. All of that is totally normal. "If you don't ever have it, that's perfectly fine," Clark told U.S. News. "Not every woman needs to have a child. Not every woman feels that's her goal in life or that it's some innate desire she has."
So what's a person to do if they do experience irrational bouts of baby fever? There is, unfortunately, no real treatment plan here, but that's only because at the end of the day, baby fever is not really a problem that needs treating. "It's a normal part of human psychology and doesn't mean that you definitely should act on it or should not act on it," Brase says. "You should look at your circumstances, and you should consider what would be the best thing considering your other goals in life."
Interestingly, Brase and his researchers did find that women generally reported feeling less baby fever after they already had kids, which to me is a compelling argument against making any rash decisions. As for me, whenever I find myself descending into one of those feverish mommy-vlogger binges, I'll probably just sit with the feeling, remind myself that there's no rush, that I'm not crazy, and carry on my way. And in the meantime, I'll promise not to judge you for watching dozens of breastfeeding videos if you promise not to judge me.
Brase GL, Brase SL. Emotional regulation of fertility decision making: what is the nature and structure of "baby fever"? Emotion. 2012;12(5):1141-54. doi:10.1037/a0024954
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Female Age-Related Fertility Decline.
U.S. News & World Report. Is Baby Fever Real?