What’s in the bag?

7 March 2016
What's in the bag
Image: Anna Kari

This Women’s Day, WaterAid unveils what mothers-to-be like to take to hospitals in their maternity bags.

Clothes for the newborn baby, medicines prescribed by the doctor, few toys, toiletries, water bottle are a few items similar to every maternity bag across the country. For World Women’s Day, WaterAid undertook a project to get a glimpse into the private world shared by a mother and her baby by unveiling what women from around the world 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. 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.

“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,” said Pushpalatha Sahoo from Puri.

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, packed bottles in her maternity bag to carry boiled water for use by her and her newborn after birth as the water that is available at the health centre might not be safe. Women’s 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.

“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,” said Swarnali Gogoi, a 33 year old HR professional who works with an IT company in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, who gave birth to a healthy baby soon after her photo shoot.

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

Better access to water, sanitation and hygiene in healthcare facilities is crucial for mothers and babies to stay healthy. Sepsis, meningitis and tetanus are all infections linked to unhygienic environments and kills thousands of newborn babies annually. After the first week of life, sepsis is the most common cause of death of babies up to one month old. Maternal and neonatal tetanus is a disease that strikes down the poorest and most vulnerable, especially singling out women and their newborns living in areas with limited access to health services and poor hygiene.

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. Over 140,000 children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in India.

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. About 0.76 million neonates die every year in India, the highest for any country in the world. Children younger than five years are more susceptible to infections when growing up in a place with dirty water and poor sanitation.

“Delivering a baby is one of the happiest days in the life of any woman. You want the best for your baby and it’s frightening to think of the dangers that contaminated water and unhygienic facilities could bring upon your newborn. WaterAid wants to help midwives and healthcare facilities to do their job better by not just delivering lives but by delivering healthy lives. This Women’s Day, let us all pledge to ensure healthcare facilities have access to clean water and have adequate toilets and are committed to good hygiene practice and promotion giving hope for mother and baby,” said Pallavi Chaturvedi, Director, Finance & IT, WaterAid India.

Also, check out our photo story on what women from around the world pack in their maternity bags.


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