Most pregnant women have used the internet to search for the must haves to pack into her bag to bring to the hospital. In developed countries like the United States, we pack a lot of items that are for comfort and not because they are medically necessary. But there are other parts of the world that require women to bring medical instruments, supplies, and basic items that most American moms would never dream of packing.
So how do the maternity bags across the world compare to each other? Is there overlap? Are there items that every woman brings with her that span economics, continents, and social dictations? How does the maternity bag of a woman in Malawi compare to that of a woman in London?
Never fear, we have done research and collected photos from women across the world. There are surprises to every bag—what one person finds comforting or necessary is always different. There are items that I expected and ones that I was shocked at, because in the country that I live in we would never need to bring a sharp device or a piece of plastic.
Hopefully this list sheds some light on the similarities between birthing women, while also highlighting the differences in conditions due to their locations and resources.
15 A Flashlight - For When There's No Electricity
When I was packing my bag for the hospital, it never occurred to me that some women might have to bring a flashlight. And no, they are not telling ghost stories between contractions. In many struggling economies, the conditions of the medical facilities are bare—they get by on what they have. And sometimes this means that the rooms have no electricity. No light.
Giving birth is hard enough but if the doctors cannot even see what is going on in the nether regions, there is a lot of room for error. Things like the color of the fluids and the pallor of the baby’s skin are indicators of health. These signs must be seen, so a flashlight is a medical necessity.
14 Razor Blades - To Cut The Umbilical Cord
Razor blades are a necessity in the hospital bags of women in rural areas of South Africa. A clean, sterile razor blade is carefully put in with other crucial items, to make sure that there is an instrument to cut the newborn’s umbilical cord after birth.
The medical facilities lack many supplies, and even if they have a sharp instrument, it is most likely tainted from the blood of another patient. The infirmaries do what they can but without access to clean areas to properly wash and disinfect, it is much safer for pregnant women to bring their own implement to cut the cord.
Some parents get queasy over cutting the cord with a pair of scissors—just imagine doing it with a razor blade!
13 A Roll Of Plastic - To Keep Mom And The Baby Clean
In areas where the hospitals have bare-bones materials, women pack things to keep themselves and their baby safe. In the landlocked country of Zambia in Southern Africa, women’s maternity bags include items like a roll of plastic to ensure that the bed that they give birth on will be clean. It protects both the new baby and the mother.
The plastic is rolled out before delivery and the pregnant woman lays on top of it, using the plastic as a barrier between her body and the thousands of body fluids that have saturated the mattress before hers.
I have heard women complain about the thread count on a hospital sheet. I guess some of us need to remember to count our blessings where we find them.
12 Sarong - To Transport The Newborn Home
In the West, we pack things like sweat pants, yoga pants, or leggings to wear home from the hospital. We choose these articles for comfort and ease. But in Malawi, for example, a woman will pack a sarong for herself.
The sarong serves many purposes; it can be worn as a dress, skirt or a headdress. The sarong can also be fashioned into a carrier for the new mother to transport her baby home.
It is a multifunctional item of clothing that is indispensible to women in southern Africa. They also put yoga pants to shame—those things have no use other than ripping at the seam when you bend over and showing the world your panty line. I will take a sarong over yoga pants any day.
11 A Bucket - Since There's No Bathing Facilities
In the country of Madagascar, located off the coast of East Africa, women pack a variety of things into their bags in preparation for delivery. One of the most interesting articles that they place within their carrier is a bucket.
The bucket can serve many purposes, depending on the area, the facility, and the woman. In some cases the bucket is used for bathing; it is filled with soap and fresh water. The infant and mother are both wiped down after the birth since there are not bathing facilities.
The bucket can also be used as a toilet in hospitals where there are no such amenities. Rather than contaminate the floor and surrounding areas, human waste is dispensed into the bucket.
10 TENS Machine - To Control The Pangs Of Labor
In London, the maternity bag contains almost everything you would think—snacks, towels, makeup, pads, electronic devices, and blankets. But I was surprised to learn about one item - a TENS machine.
A TENS machine is a pain relief method that is given without the use of drugs. It stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. The mother can control the strength and the frequency by the touch of a button. These machines are very common in the UK.
A laboring woman is connected to the machine via battery powered leads that then connect to pads that are placed on her skin. The machine pulses electricity in small amounts, and those pulses are thought to calm the muscles. Many women find that during contractions, when the muscles are strained, the TENS machine provides a more natural form of relief.
9 Cotton Wool - To Clean Out Wounds
In places like Zambia, there is no running water in many hospitals where women give birth. Women prepare accordingly by packing important items in their bags to bring with them to the hospital. One such essential is cotton wool—or cotton balls as they are commonly referred to the in United States.
Cotton wool is used to clean everything from the new mom to the infant. Paired with water, it is a cheap and effective way to keep wounds clean and to wipe the sensitive areas of both mother and child.
In developed countries, we are used to these items being provided by the maternity ward. We would never think to bring a medical supply like that with us.
8 Mittens - To Protect The Baby's Fingers
Mittens are packed into a pregnant woman’s hospital bags across the world and for a variety of reasons. In some climates, they are necessary to protect the baby’s tiny fingers from the frigid cold when leaving the hospital. Those itty bitty fingers don’t have the best circulation early on in life and are susceptible to winter weather. Babies are very likely to move their arms enough to push a blanket off themselves, so mittens ensure the fingers stay warm.
Mittens are also used by many women to protect the baby from themselves. A newborn can come out with very, long, sharp fingernails. Their hands often flail around and they are prone to scratching themselves in the face. The mittens are placed on their hands for safety.
7 A Flask - To Keep Hydrated During Labor
There are specific items that some of us would never think to bring when we are preparing to have a baby—and a flask is probably one of them. The flask is packed in many maternity bags in countries where the facilities may not have cups, or even water. The flask is generally not used for alcohol—this is not a hipster wedding in a meadow. This is the birth of a child in an impoverished place. Geez.
A flask is necessary to keep a woman hydrated during labor, when she is losing fluids rapidly due to extreme exertion. It is easy to pour, refillable and ensures a clean delivery system from water source to mother. It is also something that most families already have, so it is not an excessive cost.
6 String - To Tie Off The Cord
When a medical facility has little to no medical supplies, expectant mothers know that they must bring things that will ensure the safe arrival of their most precious cargo. In Malawi, pregnant women prepare for the birth of their baby accordingly. These women pack string into their maternity bags in order to tie off the baby’s umbilical cord.
In many countries, the baby's umbilical cord is clamped, taped, or a cord ring is used to tie it off. But in impoverished nations, such as Malawi, pregnant women use the best that they have, and in this case it is a piece of string.
5 Arnica Gel - To Heal Muscle Aches
In New York City, the hospitals provide most medical equipment and supplies. But some women find that western medicine does not give them everything that they may require during labor. Among the baby clothes, sweat pants, makeup bags, coconut oil, snacks, nursing bras, pillow, and music, a little bottle of ArnicaGel may be found.
Some New Yorkers bring Arnica Gel, a homeopathic remedy, in their maternity bags. Arnica gel is used to treat muscle aches before and after labor and various other discomforts that occur within that time period.
Proponents of Arnica Gel say that it is beneficial for both mothers who have C-sections and natural births, because it speeds up the healing process while also treating the pain.
4 Tea - Not All Birthing Centres Have Drinks
Not every hospital that a woman gives birth at has a cafeteria. Here in the US, we have grown accustomed to certain expectations of medical facilities, and having food and drink is one of them. But many women must plan accordingly and bring items that will give them comfort, and in this case, hydration.
Teas are commonly found in maternity bags in Africa— they are a special treat for birthing women that do not require refrigeration and can be easily slipped into the pocket of the bag. In birthing centers that have no kitchens, tea is something that can be made with only hot water. Moreover, the water is boiled which has the added bonus of freeing it from any potential contamination.
3 Oils - To Bring Peace To The Labor Room
For some women, massage oils are packed to bring peace and tranquility into the labor room. Their birthing partner or assistant, such as a doula, will be tasked with massaging the oils into their shoulders, neck and feet during the worst of the contractions. Unlike myself, who didn’t want anyone to touch me at all during labor.
We are seeing more and more essential oils being packed these days as many women swear by them. Essential oils rely on aromatherapy and can be used to treat everything from backaches to nausea. They are a completely natural route for pain relief. One study found that aromatherapy can be effective in reducing not only pain but anxiety and fear, which are prevalent emotions during child birth.
2 Water - To Drink And Sanitize
Water is brought in women’s birth bags to facilities that have no running water available. In some cases, the water is for the birthing mother to drink, and in some cases, it is to help with sanitation. In Tanzania, for example, birth rooms may have a sink but it is used to wash medical instruments and is contaminated with various bodily fluids. It is not a place that you want a new mother, who is easily prone to infection, to come into contact with.
There are shops at some of these hospitals where water can be purchased, but it is very expensive and for most women, too hefty of a price to pay. Therefore, bottles are tucked into the maternity bags between clothes for the baby, blankets, and teas.
1 Clothes For Baby - No Matter Where You Are
Clothes for the new baby are something that are found in almost every woman’s maternity bag, no matter where in the world she is giving birth. For more affluent women, the clothes are purchased far in advance. They are shopped for by the pregnant mother with care.
For more poverty-stricken families, the baby’s clothes may be handed down from an older sibling or passed over from a cousin. There are also organizations that provide soon-to-be-mothers who cannot afford to purchase an outfit, with newborn attire from donations.
No matter the origin of the clothes, mothers everywhere bring this item to the hospital for their newborn babies. It is one of the few traditions that can be traced all over across the globe.
Sources: CNN, Mama Natural, Baby Centre, Healthline