There is something compulsive about getting a peek into the lives of other people, especially if they are going through a similar life experience. That is why it is so interesting to see what other women, from around the world, pack into their bags for a hospital birth.
Baby bags, maternity bags, hospital bags, birth bags -- they have multiple names but whatever you want to call them packing one can be fraught with worry in case you leave out something essential.
Which brings us to a project by a UK charity “WaterAid.” They sent a team of reporters and photographers around the world to interview and photograph women and the bags they packed for the births.
Having seen some of these photos, and read the women's experiences, I trawled the net for some additional bags, their contents and the reasoning behind them. From crowd-sourced bags in the UK to the choices of a 16-year-old first-time mom in a mother's home in Nicaragua, and the picks of a number of parenting bloggers the results are a fascinating reflection of the differences and the similarities of moms around the world. I also discovered that birth is a unifying and polarizing experience in equal measure.
15 The Super Prepared Momma In The UK
Who: Ruth Walters
Where: London, UK / Wales
What's in the bag? Ruth packed; diapers, wipes, diaper cream and cotton wool pads - one set of baby clothes plus one going home outfit, including a coat for the baby - a toy giraffe - bottled water and snacks - four nightshirts, five sets of underwear, two pairs of sock, one robe, a pair of flip-flops - maternity pads, tissues, breast cream - moist toilet tissue, face cloth, toiletries - breast pads and a breastfeeding pillow and some cash.
Moms in England and Wales are expected to bring everything they might need for themselves and their babies, and average hospital stays are very short. If you and your baby are fit and healthy, you might be going home an hour or two after the birth, so women do not feel the need to bring a great deal in the way of clothes for themselves or their babies.
First-time mom Ruth said: “In amongst 98% of the things I’ll probably not need, there’s a giant dose of optimism and open-mindedness in my hospital bag. There’s a sick and twisted part of me that’s excited to find out just how much it’s going to hurt. There’s also a lot of me that would secretly love to end up starting labor in the most unlikely of places and arriving at the hospital with nothing but my notes and a gigantic pack of maternity pads. But this is me. And anyone that knows me knows equally that would never happen. I make plans about planning. I’m surprised ‘prepared’ didn’t become my middle name.”
14 A Different Set Of Needs In Zambia
Who: Hazel Shandumba
What's in the bag? Hazel packed her bag with; a blanket in which to wrap the baby at birth - cotton wool -chitenge (like a sarong) - one babygrow -sanitary napkins - a bowl for water to wash the baby, and a polythene roll to put on the delivery bed.
The clinic in Monze district, Zambia where Hazel will give birth has no running water and not only do the midwives struggle to keep the wards, instruments, and bedding clean; they are even up against it trying to obtain clean water with which to wash their hands between delivery.
That is why Hazel has bought a bowl with her so that she can have fresh water exclusively for her, her midwife and her baby, and a polythene roll to cover the bed and avoid laying on dirty bedding.
First-time mom Hazel says: "We have a borehole at the clinic, but there is no running water in the maternity ward,’ she says. ‘I have heard elderly women telling different do’s and don’ts [for pregnancy]. I was told not to sleep too much during the daytime. If I do, the baby would also sleep at the time of delivery. I am not supposed to stand in the doorway because the baby will do the same while being delivered and will delay. I was told not to put a scarf or necklace around my neck because the baby’s umbilical cord will wrap around the neck."
13 The Difference Down Under
Where: Warabrook, New South Wales, Australia
What's in the bag? Laura packed; one baby outfit - diapers and wipes - a small soft toy - a baby blanket - nightshirt for mom - make-up & toiletries bag, and snacks.
Australian moms can expect to stay in a public hospital anywhere between four hours and two days following an uncomplicated birth, depending on whether they have had a doctor-assisted or midwife-led birth. In private hospitals, it is usual to stay for four days for an uneventful vaginal birth and five days following a C-section.
Another first-time mom, Laura works for Compassion Australia, a charity which facilitates the sponsorship of children in the developing world. They also have a compassionate gift program which allows you to purchase items such as chickens, cow, childhood vaccinations, pregnancy care, and baby essentials bundles which will be gifted to the families who live in their service areas.
Through these gift-giving programs women in sub-Saharan Africa, where a woman has a one in 38 chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth, are given pre and postnatal care otherwise unavailable to them.
12 The Bag Of The Experienced Village
Who: Zoenabo Karane
Where: Kampoaga village health center in Burkina Faso
What's in the bag? Mom-to-be Zoenabo packed her bag with; hats, socks, and baby leggings and shorts - a change of clothes for mom - pieces of fabric - pants - a baby sling - a basin to hold water so she did not have to share, a tumbler
At 33, Zoenabo is no stranger to childbirth, this is her fifth baby. The experienced mom knows how lucky she is to have clean, running water on tap for her pregnancies, her birth, her postnatal period, and for the health of her babies.
Mom Zoenabo says: "Thanks to God, where I live, we have boreholes, and I didn’t get sick from drinking dirty water while pregnant,’ she says. ‘My children also didn’t get sick as newborns because of dirty water. This is good fortune because I know there are areas where people don’t have a clean water point. If you are pregnant and you live where there is no clean, accessible water I can imagine how you’ll be suffering, being obliged to deal with dirty water."
Zoenabo has good reason to be grateful. In 2008, 560 women died per 100,000 live births, but with an increase in access to clean water, this number had been reduced to 371 per 100,000 in 2015. Although, when you compare that to the figure for the US, 14 per 100,000 births, it is clear there is still some way to go.
11 Minimum Gear, Maximum Rest In Ethiopia
Who: Mestawet Legesse
Where: Akaki health center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
What's in the bag? Mestawet packed only; underwear, socks, sweatpants and a long loose dress for herself - a towel in which to hold the baby after the birth - sanitary towels, and a bottle of a local soft drink called Mirinda.
While discovering what mothers around the world packed in their birth bags the traditional practices in different cultures also becomes apparent. For example, the postnatal period in Ethiopia is not what you might expect, and certainly something I would like to see on our continent.
Mestawet told us: "In 40 days, according to our religion, he will be baptized. Until then I will stay at home while my mum nurses me, feeds me, does everything for me. I am going to be treated very well as I am a new mother again. The nursing could go on for up to two months. But after a month, I will start doing small things for myself."
This is a far cry from what we might imagine for the mothers in developing countries and just goes to show us all that in some ways, other cultures that we might consider to be behind us, can be far more forward thinking than we are in our "modern" society.
10 Private Care In Japan
Who: Takako Ishikawa
Where: Tokyo, Japan
What's in the bag: Takako bought with her; baby clothes - an insurance card, consent forms for any emergency hospitalization and blood transfusions, mother-and-child health records, and a patient’s registration ticket -maternity shorts - a crop-top bra which is more comfortable for breastfeeding training and consultation she will receive in the hospital, and toiletries.
Takako will receive diapers, pajamas, and clothes for her newborn baby while they are in the labor ward, as part of the hospital fee she has paid.
“When I gave birth to my first child, I had to take these items with me. But this time they are included in the fee. It will be helpful, as I won’t have to worry about washing,” she says.
Second-time mom Takako says of the postnatal period:
“Women should not touch water right after a delivery, for about a month. It means that women should concentrate on taking care of her baby, not housework, including using water for cooking and washing. It is said that symptoms of climacterium [psychological and biological adjustment] tend to be worse if a woman used water soon after the delivery.
Although I am not sure if this is reliable, it has been handed down for a long time. With the development of technology, we now have highly developed home appliances and food delivery services which allow us to live without touching water a lot in housework, so it may be one of the reasons why Japanese live longer than before.”
9 A Family Affair In Madagascar
Who: Marie Lucette Ravonjinahar
Where: Soavina in Madagascar.
What's in the bag: Marie bought the following items to the hospital with her; A Thermos - bucket - baby clothes - a cup - a cloth and diapers.
Fifth-time mom Marie says: “During my last check-up here a few weeks ago, our midwife told us to buy and bring everything we would need before, during, and after the delivery. These were items like a receiving blanket, a compress, cotton wool, nappies, new clothes made of cotton for the baby and warm clothes, flip-flops, a thermos, a sheet and pads for myself.
But as some of my family are also here to support me, they brought almost everything that we will need to be able to stay here for a few days. This includes our cooking pot, firewood, plates, spoons, food like rice and some vegetables. They also brought for me a chicken for soup because I really need it after the delivery. Chicken soup is really effective for recovering quickly after giving birth and also helps with breastfeeding.
In my village, we have many traditions, taboos, and things that you can’t do during your pregnancy. For example, pregnant women should not put ginger in their pocket. If women do put ginger in their pocket, their baby will grow a sixth finger or toe. I do follow them all because I try to be respectful. I don’t want to be cursed by ancestors, and above all, I don’t want something bad happening to my new baby.”
8 As Basic As You Can Get In Malawi
Who: Ellen Phiri
Where: The Simulemba health center in Malawi
What's in the bag: One of the moms with the least in her bag was Ellen. She packed: a torch because there is no electricity supply at the health center - one black plastic sheet to put on the delivery bed because there are no clean linens available on which to lay - one razor blade to cut the baby’s umbilical cord - some clean string with which to tie the baby’s umbilical cord - 200 kwacha, about 20 cents, for food, and three large sarongs for Ellen to wear, in one of which she will also wrap the baby.
It is difficult to believe that the building where Ellen Phiri will give birth has the title “The Simulemba Health Centre.” The facility serves over 70,000 people and the staff there deliver more than 90 babies a month. This may sound just like any health center or hospital in your neighborhood until you find out that it also has no clean running water, no electricity, and no way of sterilizing any of the medical equipment. There are no clean linens available for the patients which is lucky in a way because although they have showers the facilities have no roof or doors, and there are four toilets for an average of 400 patients who may be in attendance at any one time.
Staff and patients have to collect water, from a local pump, which is shared with the surrounding community of 2000 people. The queues are invariably long, in the hot sun, and when you do finally manage to collect some water, it is not even clean.
If you have ever wondered what it is like for a woman in a genuinely impoverished and underdeveloped country to give birth in the most basic of facilities then take a look at Ellen's list of supplies, it will tell you everything you need to know.
7 A Comfortable US Mom
Who: Deanna Neiers
Where: New York, New York, US
What's in the bag: Deanna has packed her bag with; a music player, wireless speaker, charger, and headphones - coconut and lavender oil for massage during labor - arnica gel to soften the tissues and reduce bruising during the birth - a stress ball for squeezing during contractions - eye mask - snacks -a nursing bra, nursing pads, and a nursing pillow - clothes for baby and for Deanna - a swaddling blanket, and a "Mindful mom-to-be" book.
At 39 Deanna is having her first baby around twenty years later than most of the women in the developing world who are on this list. A clear sign that many of us are privileged indeed to have access to contraception so we can choose when we will have a family and how large that family will be.
Deanna has planned a natural birth, and the contents of her hospital bag reflect her wish to go through the process with the minimum of intervention. She has included music, natural products, and even a stress ball to help her cope with her contractions.
Deanna says: "I am very fortunate to live within walking distance of one of the best hospitals in New York City. Being pregnant certainly heightens your awareness of how fortunate we are to have access to great birthing facilities and clean water. You want the best for your baby, and it’s devastating to think about dangers such as contaminated water and unhygienic facilities. I imagine a world where all women have a safe, clean place to birth their babies."
6 A Bundle For A Bundle Of Joy
Who: A mother in need
Where: In the developing world
What's in the bag: It varies according to local needs. Some have bottled water or water purifying tablets while in those areas where there is clean running water the money is spent on other essentials. A typical bundle might contain; disposable diapers and wipes so the women do not have to wash diapers while in the hospital - a large tub or bucket for washing the newborn and to provide an always needed additional water receptacle for home - clothes for both mom and baby - cloths that can be used for swaddling, bedding, baby wearing or any other purpose for which the mom needs it - soap and other toiletries for mom because we all deserve a little something special for ourselves after having given birth - plastic cups and plates, along with some basic foodstuff for mom in the hospital or for taking home to share with the family and a baby toy, because every mom wants her baby to have something special.
This hospital kit is actually an extraordinary one. It has not been put together by an excited mom who has the resource to procure the items she needs. This is a charity gift you can purchase for a friend who does not need anything. The friend receives a card explaining that you have bought a baby's essentials kit for their special day and the package itself goes to a woman in need in one of the developing countries the charity serves.
The kit itself is delivered by hand, courtesy of one of the charity staff members, who, incidentally, will make follow-up visits to provide ongoing support and education. While many of the items are essentials there, are also the kind of things that we would take for granted but for these women are a welcome “luxury” that they would not otherwise have.
5 What She Took & What She Wishes She Took
Who: Mary Elizabeth
Where: Wichita, Kansas, US
Mary Elizabeth wrote a post on her blog, "For The Love Of Character" about what she packed and what she wished she had packed for her baby, herself, and her husband.
She outlined the importance for her to have for the baby: layettes, a swaddle, a blanket, a hat, a boppy, a baby book, a pacifier/ Wubbanub, and burp cloths.
She regretted not packing for the baby: outfits with pant legs, undershirts, socks, and a regular pacifier. Especially for the pacifier, she explained, "Love our Wubbanubs (pacifier with an attached animal), but they ended up making me nervous when she's sleeping. Better to have a plain, newborn pacifier for sleeping."
She packed for herself: nursing tank tops and nursing bras from H&M, a robe, large sweatpants, flip flops, a pillow, nipple balm, a going home outside, as well as water bottles and granola bars for the new dad.
She regretted not packing for herself: breast pads, shampoo & conditioner, towels, a pillow for the new dad, and a hairdryer.
4 A Refuge For Rural Moms In Nicaragua
Who: Chadla Suyhidy Morales Benjamio
Where: Bilwi, Nicaragua, at the Casa Materna
What's in the bag: Chadla has in her bag; a towel - one set of baby clothes - bottles of clean drinking water - a bowl, cup, and spoon - a comb, toothbrush, and paste, deodorant, and perfume - a roll of toilet paper, and a ballpoint pen and notebook.
Casa Matena provides a short-term place of residence in the city of Matagalpa. While staying here moms from rural areas who have high-risk pregnancies are given food, shelter, education, transportation, and support at no cost to them. Women can stay here for 1-2 weeks before and after childbirth and because most of the necessities are provided the women do not have to face the burden of finding money for supplies.
The well that serves the Casa Materna has been contaminated by a nearby septic tank. The water is not safe to drink, but it is still used for bathing and laundry. As she has been staying here in anticipation of the birth Chadla has bathed in the water and as a consequence has a skin rash all over her body.
Chadla says: “I have my sheets, my towel, a sweater, and some cotton to put in my ears after giving birth. And something to tie my hair with. They tell me the way I should bathe my baby and that the baby has to bathe every day … I think everything is good, but the earliest only problem I have is that the water from the well irritates my skin. It itches a lot, and it also gives me an allergy, leaving scars on my skin, and I cannot drink the water.”
3 Packing In A Pocket In Tanzania
Who: Zaituni Mohammed
Where: Kiomboi hospital in Iramba, Tanzania.
What's in the bag: Zaituni ha packed; a Thermos - a drink - a meal, and some swaddling clothes.
Zaituni Mohammed was not eager to deliver her baby at the Kiomboi hospital in Iramba, Tanzania. While the hospital had previously installed a rudimentary piped water system, it had broken down and once again there was no running water.
The midwives were aware of the dangers of infection and how it is spread after birth and struggle to keep themselves clean between patients in a desperate effort to maintain some semblance of the basic hygiene practices needed to ensure a safe delivery and postnatal recovery.
Like the other mothers, she shared the ward with Zaituni had washed in the only water available to her, which was brought in from a dirty pond near to the hospital.
Zaituni says: “I do not like drinking the water because I know it is not clean, but I did feel better having a wash after my baby was born. It helped to make my strength return.”
Three days after this, the photographer and her team met Zaituni they heard that she was back at the hospital, now dangerously ill with sepsis. The new mom desperately needed a blood transfusion but there was no blood at the hospital, and none of her family who were offering to donate could do so because they may have been carrying Hepatitis B.
Fortunately for Zaituni, the media team had vaccination records which showed they had been vaccinated against Hep B and they were able to donate blood. This saved her life, but if it had not been for a team documenting women's hospital bags, she would have become one of the hundreds of mothers who die every year in Tanzania because of a lack of necessary facilities.
2 The Crowdsourced Bag In The UK
Who: English moms online
Where: Across the UK
What's in the bag:
One English mom's online forum for English mums put out a call to their members and crowdsourced the “perfect” hospital bag according to what their members suggested. They broke down the contents into what moms-to-be felt was essential of the birth bag, nice to have in the birth bag, and important in a second bag if you are going to be staying in the hospital longer than a day. This is their list, complete with English language and spellings :
Your Hospital Bag Essentials
The general consensus is that hospital bag essentials should include: your birth plan, medical notes, a maternity bra, snacks, water, drinks, and toiletries.
Underwear should "either very comfy old ones or disposable paper ones" and you should also have "one pack of maternity pads, a nursing bra and breast pads plus some smart-looking, comfortable, loose maternity clothing or nightwear for after birth".
"Nightwear or a large top, front-opening options will make breastfeeding easier, dressing gown, slippers, a plastic bag for dirty clothing and antiseptic cleaning wipes, for the shared toilets, if you’re worried about cleanliness."
Your hospital bag nice-to-haves:
Among some of the top items, moms voted for: magazines, books, iPad, tablet, extra pillow, water spray, a TENS machine, birthing ball and aromatherapy oils etc.
Also, "make-up, if you're the sort that likes to put on a bit of a lippie before a pic – because that first 'mum-and-baby' pic will be a precious one".
And a "hot water bottle, for a potential backache, sleep bras, if you tend to wear them, and a plastic water jug – post-birth, pouring water on yourself as you pee can make things feel less sore."
What to bring later if you stay on the maternity ward a bit longer (your second hospital bag)
Sometimes you find yourself having to stay in the hospital for longer than you anticipated. If this is a case you will need someone to pack you a bag with; maternity pads - two nursing bras - underwear, either very comfy old ones or disposable paper ones - a change of nightwear - comfy, loose clothing - a comfy outfit in which to go home - earplugs, in case the ward, is noisy at night, and nipple cream.
1 Hard To Pack Less In Ethiopia
What's in the bag: Se’ada has only a few items in her bag. She has; fresh underwear -a loose dress that will be comfortable after the birth - a cotton throw to preserve her modesty during the birth - a piece of fabric to use as a diaper - a towel with which to catch the baby and clean him or her off after the birth, and maternity pads, which are still considered a new and novel item in Ethiopia.
First-time mom Se’ada is experiencing just what other first-time, and the second time, and third time, etc moms the world over experience, fear. “I did my antenatal care here. It’s my first child, so I am scared,” she said.
She also confided that: “At home, we share the tap and toilet with our landlords. The toilet looks like it could collapse at any minute, but I managed somehow.”
This is typical of many homes in Ethiopia that are fortunate enough to have running water but for whom the system quickly breaks down. Having one tap with running water is an advantage but having to share it with their landlords takes control of cleanliness out of the hands of tenants.
The new family will also have to be concerned that the landlord is not bothered by the noise of a new bay. It is not unusual for young families to be evicted for this reason.
References: theatlantic.com, medium.com, lethereatclean.com, compassion.com.au, indexmundi.com, fortheloveofcharacter.com, casamaterna.org, wateraid.org, theguardian.com, madeformums.com