Exposing the secrets of maternity bags worldwide

3 min read
Australian Maternity Bag

Beautiful new photos reveal the items mothers-to-be from around the world take to hospital in their maternity bags.

From plastic sheets, razor blades and torches, to iPads and massage oils, a new project from leading international charity WaterAid, has unveiled what women from around the globe pack 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. The charity photographed and interviewed women internationally – from Australia, the UK and the US, to Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and Madagascar - about what they packed.

There were several key maternity bag items that women from around the world had in common, including blankets to wrap the baby in, clothes for the baby, and a water bottle or flask. Yet the project also highlighted the challenges women from developing nations face when giving birth, where shockingly the items packed by new mums are largely dictated by whether they can rely on the hospital having clean water, sanitation and hygienic conditions during their labour.

Inside the maternity bag of 23-year-old Ellen, who lives in Malawi, there is a razor blade which midwives use to cut the umbilical cord. Ellen also had to pack her own plastic sheet for the delivery bed in order to help maintain personal hygiene, as there is no clean water at the health centre to clean the beds between births.

It’s a similar story for 27-year-old Hazel at the health centre in Hamakando village, Zambia. She explains she too has to take a plastic sheet for the bed, and says: “We have a borehole at the clinic but there is no running water in the maternity ward.”

Mother and her bag in Zambia
Image: WaterAid

Deanna Neiers lives in New York City, and says she can’t comprehend giving birth in a place where there is no clean water for the midwives to wash their hands, or to sterilise operating equipment.

“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,” says Deanna.

Katy Shaw lives in Melbourne, and says “I never question how hygienic a place is because I know everywhere in Australia has hygienic facilities, and the hospital is a very clean and sterile environment.”

Mother and her bag in Australia
Image: WaterAid

Paul Nichols, WaterAid Australia’s Chief Executive comments:

“Everyone wants every newborn baby to get the best possible start in life. Midwives and hospital staff want to be able to do the job that they trained for – to deliver life. But this isn’t possible without safe water, toilets and good hygiene.

“Seeing these photographs, and meeting women in similar situations, I am always struck by the harsh reality they face when giving birth in such risky conditions. Water and sanitation facilities are needed to help ensure a clean environment and good hygiene, giving hope for mother and baby.”

Every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment. WaterAid wants to ensure healthcare facilities have access to clean water and have adequate toilets and are committed to good hygiene practice and promotion.

Mother with her maternity bag
Image: WaterAid