What’s in the bag?

Pushpalatha Sahoo maternity bag WaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

What mothers-to-be like to take to hospitals in their maternity bags?

Depending on where in the world they are giving birth, the items women choose to take to the hospital might be life-savers or simple luxuries. WaterAid photographed and interviewed women internationally – from the UK, the US, and Australia, to India, Malawi, Zambia and Madagascar.

It was interesting to notice the stark contrasts between maternity bags ranging from life-saving necessities like sterile razor blades, soap, boiled water and torches to stress-relieving luxuries like iPads and massage oils. The project highlighted that different choices made by women shockingly depends on whether they can rely on there being clean water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) when they give birth to their baby.

Pushpalatha Sahoo, 34 years, who lives in a slum near Puri in the state of OdishaWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

Meet Pushpalatha Sahoo, 34 years, who lives in a slum near Puri in the state of Odisha and is in the eighth month of her pregnancy.

Pushpalatha Sahoo maternity bagWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

What women carried in their maternity bags differed depending on whether they are delivering the child in a rural or urban setup, in a private or public healthcare facility, and largely on the financial condition of the family.

Pushpalatha Sahoo maternity bag contentsWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

Pushpalatha has packed bottles in her maternity bag. “I need to carry boiled water with myself when I go for my delivery as there is no safe water at the health centre. Also, the toilets are not good for pregnant women as I find it difficult to squat in a narrow toilet and there is not enough water also.” Other items in her maternity bag include one towel, five food vessels, one glass, one spoon, two sarees, one soap, one blanket, and one cloth. 

Agnes Noti, 22, in the labour ward at Kiomboi Hospital, Iramba, Tanzania, 2015.WaterAid/ Anna Kari

Agnes is 22 and is in the Kiomboi Hospital at Iramba District in Tanzania. This baby will be her third child.

The hospital bag of Agnes Noti, 22. Kiomboi District Hospital, in Kiomboi, Tanzania.WaterAid/ Anna Kari

In her maternity bag, she has clothes for the baby, blanket, socks, a basin, a flask, and tea. Better access to water, sanitation, and hygiene in healthcare facilities is crucial for mothers and babies to stay healthy.

Portrait Hazel Shandumba 27, of Hamakando Village in Hamangaba, West of Monze District in ZambiaWaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

Sepsis, meningitis, and tetanus are all infections linked to unhygienic environments and kills thousands of newborn babies annually. With no safe water at the clinic where she’ll be giving birth in Monze district of Zambia, mom-to-be Hazel has packed a basin to wash with.

Hazel Shandumba's maternity bag, Hamangaba, Zambia, 2015.WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

She has packed black plastic to lay on during her delivery, to try and reduce the risk from unclean sheets.

Hazel Shandumba's maternity bag contents: baby blanket, cotton wool, sarong, baby suit, napkins, dish and polythene roll. Hamangaga, Zambia, 2015.WaterAid/ Chileshe Chanda

Other items in Hazel’s maternity bag, include a baby blanket, cotton wool, a sarong, a baby suit, a basin to wash with and a roll of black plastic.

Katy Shaw, 31, Melbourne, Australia, 2015.WaterAid/ James Grant

In Melbourne, Australia Katy has stuck closely to the list of items the hospital recommends for giving birth, including toiletries, snacks and massage oils to help her relax.

I feel I’m in a good position in terms of knowing what to expectWaterAid/James Grant

“The hospital has kept me very well informed and I feel I’m in a good position in terms of knowing what to expect,” she says.

Katy Shaw's, 31, maternity bags contents: toileteries, snacks, nappies, het, socks, mittens, clothes and swaddles for the baby, clothes for her, night dresses, maternity underwear, maternity pads nursing pads, massage oils. Melbourne, Australia, 2015.WaterAid/ James Grant

Katy’s maternity bag contains toiletries, snacks, hats, socks, mittens, baby clothes and swaddles, nightdresses, maternity underwear, maternity pads, nursing pads, and massage oils.

Joanna Edwards, 34, London. UK, 2015.WaterAid/ Anna Kari

In the UK, there are two important items in Joanna’s maternity bag: her medical notes and the blanket her mum gave her, to bring her new baby home in. 

Joanna Edwards', 34, maternity bag, London, UK, 2015.WaterAid/ Anna Kari

“My sister suggested bringing something to make it easier to drink water during the labour, so I have packed a water bottle. I will bring it empty — I’m assuming the hospital will have somewhere I can fill it,” she says.

Joanna Edwards', 34, maternity bag contents: nappies, little white clothes, trousers, snacks, clothes, towel, toileteries, TENS machine, maternity pads. London, UK, 2015.WaterAid/ Anna Kari

Joanna’s maternity bag contains nappies, baby clothes, knitted trousers, snacks, a towel, clean clothes, toiletries, a TENS machine to help with pain, maternity pads, an iPad, a water bottle, medical notes, and a blanket.

Swarnali Gogoi, from Noida, Uttar PradeshWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

“We selected a hospital which has all facilities like clean and hygienic toilets and safe water so that we could ensure a safe birth for our child. I never thought about it before but not having safe water or a private toilet when I’ll be at the hospital for giving birth is unimaginable for me,” says Swarnali Gogoi, from Noida, Uttar Pradesh. 

Swarnali Gogoi maternity bagWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

India is one of the most populous countries in the world, with 327 million women of childbearing age, and 26 million children born every year. WaterAid believes in giving mothers, their newborns, and their families a brighter start and a better future: simply through clean, safe water, proper toilets and better hygiene. 

Swarnali Gogoi maternity bagWaterAid/Anil Cherukupalli

Swarnali’s maternity bags has diapers and toiletries, socks and blankets for her newborn, maxi pads for herself and a baby receiving a blanket. She had not even thought about packing water as she was confident that the private hospital she had selected would have all the necessary WASH facilities.