When it comes to packing your maternity bag, preparation is everything. After all, you don't want to be caught without a bag in case your baby decides to show up early!
We spoke to parenting and pregnancy expert Anya Hayes to get the details on what you should be packing for you, for your partner and for your baby, to make sure you’re prepared in advance with everything you need.
Use it as part of your ‘nesting process’
“Packing your hospital bag – or ‘birthing bag’ if you’re planning on a home birth, it’s still good to have all your gear ready and available somewhere – can be a wonderful part of the nesting process, allowing you to positively visualise what is shortly going to be happening,” says Hayes. “It’s a ritual to get you into the mindset for your impending motherhood. It’s a great way of channelling your organising instincts, and allowing any jitters a space to calm.”
Get your birthing partner to pack the bag
Hayes recommends first gathering together and laying out all of the things in your hospital bag list that you want to pack.“You can pack the bag yourself if it helps you in terms of nesting and ritual,” she says. “But then, unpack and get your birth partner to pack the bag. They are the ones who will be unpacking it to find things while you’re otherwise engaged during your labour, or lying in bed with your newborn. It’s useful and less stressful for everyone if they have an awareness of what and where on earth it all is.”
She also recommends having one maternity hospital bag for your own birthing and postnatal things, and another just for the baby, to make it easier for rummaging purposes. But if you don't manage to get all these items, don't worry.
“Don’t fret too much about the hospital bag,” Hayes adds. “We live in the modern world, so you can always get someone to nip out and buy things you’ve forgotten if you need them.
“It’s more a good nesting ritual to help you to visualise bringing your newborn into the world. Always try to get into a calm mindset when you think about packing it, and never worry about not having something that you hear is ‘essential’.”
Without further ado… here’s what Hayes recommends adding to your hospital bag checklist.
What should I pack in my hospital bag?
- To wear in labour: comfy things like a vest top, slouchy T-shirt, comfy robe. You might prefer to go primal and take it all off. You may want a bikini top if you’re in the pool, but chances are you won’t really care.
- Hair bands, a headscarf or a wide head band to keep your hair out of your face.
- Facial spray or rose facial spritz: it doesn’t have to be an expensive brand, but it’s great for refreshing and cooling you down during labour, but also for the postnatal ward if you feel you need a pick-me-up.
- Lip balm: gas and air can make your lips dry so make sure you have some to hand for later.
- Lavender oil and a flannel: Lavender oil has multiple uses. It can be used for your partner to massage your lower back or neck. It has a comforting and uplifting scent which can have amazing powerful effects for relaxing and calming you down during labour. A few drops on a flannel draped across your forehead can also help to shut out the world around you if needs be, and help you to get into the zone with deep breathing. It’s also an antiseptic, so a few drops on your maternity pad post-birth can help to soothe your perineum. It’s a proven antidepressant as well, and aids relaxation and sleep: so postnatally a few drops on your pillow or dabbed behind your ears can be magic for the soul.
- Other essential oils such as Frankincense and clary sage can also be comforting during your labour, but make sure to always check oils in advance for whether they are suitable for pregnancy.
- Lavender wheat bag: they are amazing for relieving tension, and can be placed over your eyes, face or lower back. A hot water bottle can perform the same function for the lower back, easing pain and tension. They’re great postnatally too if you’re on the ward, as a lavender wheat bag over the eyes will help to send you to a zen place.
- Yesmum cards or other positive affirmations that you’ve made for yourself. Never underestimate the power of the mind in labour. Surround yourself with positivity.
- Load up some podcasts, a guided meditation or hypnobirthing relaxation onto your phone.
- A pillow or pillow case, as it’s comforting to have something that makes you feel relaxed as if you’re in your own home. It’ll allow you to soften into your labour if you don’t feel like you’re in a totally unfamiliar environment.
- A dark-coloured towel.
- Nightie or open front pyjamas: anything you feel really comfy and cosy in, with a high, loose waistband and easy access for breastfeeding. You need to feel comfortable. Dark colours are best - it’s maybe not the time for your Cath Kidston flowery white stuff, as you never know what kind of bodily fluids from you and your baby are going to be spilling all over it. You might fluctuate between being boiling and being a bit chilly, so have something that’s easy to take on and off, or maybe bring yourself a scarf you can throw over your shoulders for those chilly moments.
- Warm furry or fluffy slippers: they’re much nicer than flip flops, as even if it’s the middle of summer, the floors might be chilly as you’re pottering around the postnatal ward, and it’s another nice item to make you feel at home.
- Lightweight dressing gown or some kind of robe you can throw on if you’re birthing in a pool, or if you have a few days’ stay at hospital and you’re going to the loo and back a lot.
- Big knickers. Always think big with the knickers. You’ll need to have wear maternity pads for a while after your baby is born, and if you’ve had a C-section you really don’t want anything touching the scar area. Granny pants a go-go!
- Pads, both maternity and breast. Lots of each. Your milk might not fully come in during your stay in hospital, but it might, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Nipple balm: you may not feel sore with the initial stages of breastfeeding in hospital if your baby takes to it like a pro, but you’ll need vats of it during your breastfeeding journey anyway so it’s best to have it to hand.
- Earplugs: postnatal wards aren’t generally that peaceful, and don’t worry about not hearing your baby cry. We have a sixth sense for these things. Earplugs might just allow you a bit of valuable rest.
- Frozen Ribena, or anything you can drink with a straw. Chuck loads of cartons of Ribena in the freezer in the days before you go to hospital. Then when the moment comes to go to hospital, throw them in the bag. They’ll be cold and refreshing throughout your labour, and it’s useful to have drinks with a straw so that if needs be, your partner can help you to drink and you can be hands-free. If there are any left over once the baby is born, it’s great for making sure you keep hydrated and keeping your blood sugar levels up.
- Some kind of survival snack pack for the postnatal ward if you need fuel in the middle of the night. Dark chocolate is the healthier option, but this isn’t the time to berate yourself if all you fancy is a Mars bar.
What should my birth partner pack?
- Give your birth partner the responsibility of preparing a birthing music playlist. Most delivery rooms will allow you to play your own music which can really make a difference. Anything that soothes your soul, have it to hand: playlists that make you happy and that you associate with good memories and times where you felt supported, loved and safe.
- An iPad loaded with films and box sets, as labour can be tedious.
- Books and newspapers to read during any times where there might be a lull in action.
- TENS machine, if you’re using one: practise how to put it on first, as you don’t want any fiddling around with the pads while you actually could do with reaping the benefits.
- Snacks and drinks: it can be tricky for a birth partner because they might feel they don’t “deserve” any time off to go out and refuel if you’ve been in hospital for a while. Have a stash of nibbles.
- Make sure you remember to pack a toothbrush and some toothpaste so you can both freshen up if you’re in hospital for a while.
- Your birth partner may well need a fresh pair of pants and a change of T-shirt, if your home isn’t within an easy trip from the hospital. We tend to forget about birth partners but they’re less likely to be allowed to have a shower and so on, so even packing some deodorant – that you can both use – will mean that you’re slightly more prepared for an extended stay in hospital.
- You'll see a lot of activity on your phone, with texts and calls from excited and anxious family and friends waiting for the big news. While you both might have your phones in your pocket or bag, don’t forget to pack a charger so the battery has plenty of juice for the huge announcement!
- We rely so much on our phones for cameras these days, but don’t take any chances and pack a camera to record your baby’s precious first moments in the world.
What should I pack for my baby?
- At least five to 10 newborn vests and sleepsuits with attached scratch mitts and socks. There’s no need for a hat and jacket for indoors, but pack them for outdoors if it’s chilly.
- A blanket for the baby. It’s nice for baby if it’s something you’ve snuggled with so that it smells of you. Maybe a favourite snuggly throw for you too.
- Nappies: way more than you imagine you might need. Newborns poo each time they feed.
- Muslins. These things are basically an indispensable miracle with so many uses: mopping up poo, milk, posset, and if you’re out and about with the baby and caught short without a nappy, one of these will make do.
- Cotton wool or water wipes for nappy changes – newborns shouldn’t have anything but water on their delicate skin for the first few weeks.
- Bottles with formula: you can buy ready-made starter packs in Boots. Even if you plan to breastfeed, it can be worth having some on standby, just in case.
Still worried about what to pack? Print off our handy checklist now, and take a look at this real mum advice with the items you’re most likely to forget.
Anya Hayes’ book Pregnancy the Naked Truth offers a no-holds barred guide to pregnancy answering all those embarrassing questions new mums are afraid to ask.