I’ve seen a lot of birth bag checklists in my time, and what always baffles me is – quite frankly – what a load of crap they all are. They seem to be mostly compiled by companies who sell baby products that they want you to buy and put in said birth bag, and as a pregnant woman more concerned with how you’re going to birth a human, it can be one of those things that doesn’t get much informed thought and ends up as a last minute panic-bought menagerie of rubbish that (I guarantee) you will not use in labour.
So before you go bonkers for mittens on Amazon Prime, just take a deep breath and take a moment to think about the three Ws when it comes to this bag: What? Who? When? What’s it for? Who’s it for? When’s it for? The answer, is that it’s a bag of essentials for YOU to use when YOU’RE in labour either at home or in hospital. It doesn’t need to include your baby’s entire wardrobe, however ovary-achingly gorgeous the contents of that might be.
Realistically, if you have a straightforward birth, you are not going to be in hospital for very long after you’ve had your little one, and if you haven’t, your partner or family can always bring you more baby supplies if necessary. What I’m saying is make this bag about YOU. Think of it as your hand luggage for the best trip you’re ever going to take. Your companion for what could be a long-haul flight through multiple time zones.
With this in mind, and having spoken to hundreds of women on the topic, I’ve compiled my list of what I think makes a kick-ass birth bag. I’ve included some brands that I love and haven’t been endorsed by. It’s also worth me saying that it’s essential that your birth partner packs the birth bag. Yes really. Lay all of this stuff out on your bed so that you remain in control of what’s going in, but let your partner pack it, because it’s very likely that they’re going to be the one navigating the contents in labour, and if they don’t know the difference between a sanitary/maternity/breast pad, we’re all in trouble. Here goes:
1) Ridiculously comfy clothes
And by that I mean the most comfortable clothes you have worn in your entire life. Think loose-fitting, soft materials – maybe a nice wynciette shirt that you can button/unbutton depending on temperature, and that doesn’t obscure access to your fanny. Two tips here: lay your White Company obsession to one side and go for something dark, and buy mens so that you’re not obstructed by any form of tailoring. Here’s a great one from M&S for a bargain £27.50. Maybe get a couple so that you can change if you have a long labour, and to hell with it, what about one for afterwards too? Perfect for breastfeeding in and if you have a c-section it’s not going to irritate your wound.
You also want to include some warm socks (hospital floors are COLD and a bit manky), some slippers, a bikini top if you want to wear one in the pool (you probably won’t, but..). I’d also suggest taking a lightweight gown/robe. Hospitals are roughly the temperature of the sun, so I’d avoid anything too heavy or fleecy, but you might want something to throw on if you’re getting in/out of the pool for example. Here’s a great one in the Toast sale which would be lovely for early mumlife too.
2) Pocket-sized positivity
Now hopefully you’ve had the good sense to do some hypnobirthing ahead of the birth of your baby, but if you’ve left it too late, head on over to my shop where you can buy a relaxation and positive affirmations MP3 to help keep you calm and focused ahead of – and on – the big day. It may sound like mumbo-jumbo to you, but feeling happy and relaxed ensures we produce endorphins and oxytocin – the very hormones we need to have on our side for labour to unfold comfortably and efficiently. They are also the hormones that will inhibit the production of adrenaline and cortisol – our stressor hormones – which slow down labour, stress your baby out and make the whole journey a lot more painful.
I’d also recommend getting some YESMUM To Be cards – positive affirmation cards for pregnancy and birth. Your birth partner could read them out to you in labour, dot them around the room, or you could even keep hold of one or two that resonate with you and help keep you focused on your own strength and ability.
Consider too making a playlist of songs that make you feel happy and safe. It doesn’t need to be whale music and pan pipes – any music you may have had at your wedding or remember as a child for instance is likely to bring up those nostalgic, emotive memories and associations of feeling loved and at ease. Mix it up; maybe have some instrumental bits when you want to feel focused and in your zone, and then some up-tempo stuff for moments when you want to feel more energized and alive. Basically, the more you can appeal to all of your senses with positive triggers, the better! With this in mind, don’t forget a portable speaker – here’s a great one from John Lewis that costs less than a tenner and takes up no precious room in your bag!
3) Home comforts
Whether you’re having your baby at home, in a birth centre or in a hospital, one of the best ways to keep your mind and body at ease is to make your surroundings as familiar and intimate as possible. When we’re in strange places with people we don’t know (especially places associated with ill-health/emergencies) our bodies naturally trigger our fight or flight response, putting us on high alert and on the lookout for danger. This stimulates the production of adrenaline and means our birthing muscles stop getting the blood and oxygen they need to work comfortably and efficiently, because their functions are not deemed essential for our survival.
Creating an environment that feels more private and homely will help to reassure you subconsciously that you are safe and that no one is observing you (we’re very primal like that when it comes to birth). I’d recommend having a little string of battery-operated fairy lights and some LED tea lights (or candles if you’re at home) – you can get both in Ikea for around £5.
Get thinking about smells too. If you’re having your baby in hospital, it’s very likely that you’re going to encounter the smell of bleach or hand-gel, maybe even a cocktail of the two, so you want to be able to easily override that with your own comforting scents. I’m a big fan of essential oils – they are so easy to use and incredibly effective during pregnancy and birth when your sense of smell is heightened. My favourites are Lavender (for calming), Rose (for feminine power), Grapefruit (for uplifting/energising) and it’s also well worth having some Clary Sage* on hand should your surges (contractions to non-hypnobirthers) need a nudge along. I always find Neal’s Yard essential oils of great quality, but you should find all of the aforementioned in your local health shop. You can use your oils in a burner (if you’re at home), a diffuser, inhaling from a handkerchief or in a spritzer bottle mixed with water. If you’re at home, obviously get your favourite Diptyque going. (*Note: Clary Sage should not be used before 37 weeks gestation). Birth partners could also massage mum during labour with this lovely oil from Motherly Love (they also do a great rose & grapefruit pulse point oil – perfect for self application).
4) Practical provisions
By this I mean all the little things that most women wish they’d put in their birth bag but didn’t have room for among all the mittens. They don’t need much of an explanation so I’ll just reel them off. Make sure they go in! Soft tissues, lip balm (Elizabeth Ardern 8 hour cream = long-lasting perfection with a million uses), hot water bottle or heat-up wheat/lavender bag, straws, a thick headband and some hair bands, your own pillow, toiletries. Snacks that will give you slow-release energy and that you can digest easily – smoothies, flapjacks, coconut water, dried fruit etc.
And for afterwards you’ll need some big comfy pants – please buy cotton ones, not crap ones (you’ll be glad you did), a nursing bra, a box of breast pads, nipple cream, a nourishing body cream (I can highly recommend the lovely coconut oil by Kokoso – it’s SO good and perfect for your baby too!), general toiletries (including a decent shower gel), ear plugs (in case you end up on a noisy ward), a plastic bag to put any dirty clothes in, Arnica tablets and some very comfy, loose clothes to wear home – your maternity clothes are perfect for this.
5) Bits for baby
I’m going to keep this one brief because as I’ve said before, your baby doesn’t need much, in fact they basically just need you. Essentially they’ll need nappies (about 10), 2-3 sleepsuits, 2-3 vests, 1 pair of mittens and booties/socks, a hat, a snowsuit (winter babies), a few cotton muslins, some cotton wool balls (with water = much kinder than using wipes on your newborn’s delicate skin), a blanket and their going-home outfit. If you don’t know what you’re having (actually, even if you do) you should definitely check out The Bright Company’s gorgeous unisex cotton sleepsuits – they are scrumptious. An insider tip is also to take a little bottle of olive oil (or use the lovely Kokoso oil mentioned above) to put on your baby’s bottom before you put their first nappy on. It means when they pass their first tar-like poo it will be a lot easier to wipe clean. You’re welcome.
6) The travelling man drawer
Sorry to sound sexist, but you know what I’m saying right? Birth partners, make sure you have your own little bag equipped with spare batteries, chargers, non-smelly snacks (it is not, I repeat not a good idea to eat a labouring woman’s snacks), things to keep you relaxed and entertained if/when your partner is sleeping – book/magazine/iPad/headphones/playing cards and so on, a few toiletries, cash. If you’re looking for something excellent to read that will make you a better birth partner, I’d highly recommend Men, Love & Birth by the amazing Mark Harris. And definitely remember to take a camera – you really want to be able to capture the first earth-side moments of your new little human.
7) The bag
Now I’ve genuinely known couples to rock up at their place of birth with wheely cases – actual wheely cases – so come on folks, let’s be sensible here. The key to the dream birth bag is only packing things you actually need, and cutting back on unnecessary baby paraphernalia. My advice would be to pack one main bag, for your birth partner to have their own rucksack, and to carry a pillow and the car seat (unless your birth partner can easily zip back home for that). I am personally a big fan of the super-mamas that are Anna and Lydia over at Tiba & Marl. They make the best baby changing bags I have ever seen (not a cupcake/owl in sight) and they have endless uses. This bag literally contains everything you will need not only for your birth, but also for life with your baby and well beyond (I use mine now as a weekend/work bag – it fits my laptop AND wine!). So here goes, the RAF Holdall (pictured right) features a padded changing mat, an insulated bottle holder, elasticated bottle holder, internal zip pocket, internal clip for keys/dummy/toys, smart phone pocket, removable clutch for wet clothes (also functions as a smart cross-body bag), 5 additional internal pockets, shoulder strap and D-rings for stroller clips, and wipe clean lining. There’s also a backpack version available, although this holdall is probably a better bet if you want to fit everything in one place.
So there you have it lovely people. That’s what I would be packing in my birth bag – I hope you’ve found it useful. If you can think of anything I’ve missed, leave a comment below or come and connect with me on Instagram/Twitter @theyesmummum