One of the first questions I get asked as a doula from my clients is, what do I really need to pack in my birth bag? Whether you are planning a home, birth centre or hospital birth, having a bag ready to go will make the arrival of your baby seem very real! It is exciting and a little nerve-racking to walk by that prepared birth bag that serves as a reminder that the day could be coming anytime now.
So when do you pack your bag?
Some find it more comforting to have their birth bag ready to go very early just in case while others start to prepare it during their nesting phase as labour starts to unfold. Others are caught by surprise and scramble to pack in a matter of minutes. While it is really difficult to know when your little one will arrive (only 5% of babies come on their due date!), putting your birth bag together at around 34 weeks in most cases is a good idea.
If you do prepare your birth bag early, pack the items that you won’t need until the birth (baby items, nursing bra, etc.). Then create a list and keep it with the packed birth bag or on the fridge of the remaining items you will grab when you are ready to go (phone chargers, ID, etc). Even if you are planning a home birth, it is a good idea to have a birth bag ready in the event of a transfer to the hospital during or after your birth. For a birth centre birth, you typically stay 4 hours after the birth. For an uncomplicated vaginal hospital birth your stay is around 24 hours and for a cesarean birth at least 48 hours.
Below is an overview of your birth bag essentials and be sure to click on this free, downloadable PDF here that I have created for you to use when packing.
BIRTHING PERSON’S BIRTH BAG:
- Underwear, pads, adult diapers: 5-10 adult diapers or 5 pairs of underwear (no thongs!) with large absorbent pads (try to avoid dry weave as they can stick to stitches). The hospitals/birth centres have large pads for you but it is always a good idea to bring your own. You will also want to use diapers or pads in early labour as you may be leaking some fluids and they can help if your water does break at home or in transit.
- Comfy bra: You will likely be wearing one in early labour so just make sure you have one on or have one packed.
- Comfortable clothing: having a large t-shirt, maternity sweat pants, cozy dress, or nightgown are all good options. Gowns are provided at the hospital but I always recommend wearing your own clothes unless you are getting ready for an epidural or are more comfortable in the gown.
- Bathing suit: water is a fantastic tool in labour. Some people choose to go naked but having a bathing suit could help if you feel like covering up in bathtub or shower.
- Footwear: having something easy to get off and on and that you don’t mind if they get on them. Flip flops, crocs or slip-on shoes are usually best. Also, pack some socks in case your feet get cold while laying down.
- Snacks: for during labour are important and pick ones that are easy to take a bite and provide high-calorie energy as you may not feel like eating too much in labour. Suggestions are fruit, yogurts, protein bars/ball, chocolate, and granola bars, Remember, you can’t eat once you’ve had an epidural, so if you are planning to use one for pain relief, eat as much as you can in your labour so that you can sustain your energy until your baby is born. It’s also a good idea to eat something that is easy to digest soon after giving birth to replenish all of the energy (you did just run a marathon after all!).
- Water bottle with a straw: this is key as some birth positions (hands and knees, side-lying for example) make it challenging to take a sip without a straw. There are also bendy straws available at the birth centres/hospitals but it might be best to bring your own bottle or straws.
- Other drinks: staying hydrated is important so adding other drinks besides water like coconut water, Gatorade, and juice are helpful. You can only drink clear fluids if you have an epidural, so these options are also good to give you some extra energy.
Comfort measure tools:
- Blue tooth speaker/headphones: can be used to help tune out noise and get into your own groove when giving birth. Music playing on a speaker can also set the mood and change the atmosphere for the caregivers (especially if we are playing some really great tunes!).
- Massage oil: your support person may be massaging you for hours, so having some unscented oil (like fractionated coconut oil, rice bran oil, etc) can help make it easier for them and for your skin.
- Massage tools: rollers, tennis balls, squeezy balls, or yoga tune balls can all help and save your support person’s hands!
- Microwavable heat pad: the birth centres and hospitals have microwaves, so a heat pack is a great tool to help with back pain.
- Knee pads: you may find yourself on your hands and knees or your support person might be kneeling to support you, so having some padding will help with hard surfaces. I always have dollar store gardening pads in my doula bag!
- Nursing bra: this might be optional for you, as for the most part, you will find it easier to be topless for feedings and to increase skin to skin contact.
- Nipple cream: some people use this as a preventative measure to avoid cracked nipples (something with lanolin is safe or with organic ingredients work well).
- Breastfeeding friendly clothes: again you might be topless for most of your feeds but it is nice to have something still covering your shoulders/back (like a button-up).
- PJs: something for you to sleep in that you feel comfortable and warm while you are in the hospital (or just pack extra comfy day time clothes, no one will notice!).
- Slippers/shower shoes: something cozy for your feet and easy to use in the shower (these can be the same as the ones you had for your birth).
- Going home outfit: these should be loose-fitting, likely maternity clothes as you will still have a baby bump.
- Nursing pillow: this is optional as you could use the extra pillows at the hospital/birth centre but some people prefer to have their own support.
- Witch Hazel (with no alcohol): is an excellent healing aid for your perineum although you could wait until you get home if you’d rather save some space.
- I won’t make an extensive list here but imagine you were packing for a trip where you would be away for about 2-4 days.
- Lip balm: don’t forget this as the air can be dry and you will using your mouth to breathe for an extended period of time.
- Hair ties and hair bands: hair in your face or touching your skin can be annoying, so be sure to have ways to tie it back.
- Entertainment (books, downloaded movies, music), chargers, documentation, wallet, hospital card, pillow/blanket (not necessary unless you want some added comfort), eye mask, earplugs, and medications (if applicable).
PARTNER/SUPPORT PERSON BIRTH BAG:
- Pack like you were going away for 2-3 days and bring layers as the room can be hot or cold depending on the set temperature.
- Be sure to pack a button-down shirt to stay warm while you do skin to skin with baby.
- Comfortable shoes are a must but make sure they are washable or that you don’t mind getting some fluids on them.
- If there is a birthing tub at your birth centre or hospital, pack a bathing suit as you might be going in to provide support.
- Bring snacks for yourself and make sure you eat throughout the labour. Some people bring a cooler with sandwiches and prepared meals too.
- Bring your own water bottle and drinks to stay hydrated (the hospital air is very dry).
- You may need some caffeine too but there is usually a place to grab a coffee if you can leave the room for a few minutes.
- I won’t make an extensive list here but imagine you were packing for a trip where you would be away for about 2-4 days away.
- This can be your phone/device or a separate camera
- As mentioned above for the birthing person: entertainment (books, games, music, movies), chargers, your wallet and ID, pillow/blanket for extra comfort (these are supplied so this is optional), eye mask and earplugs.
BABY’S BIRTH BAG:
- I suggest bringing a couple of different sized hats and about 4 onesies and sleepers. A 9 lbs baby may not fit into newborn outfits so just make sure you have a few different sizes! Having a warm blanket and appropriate outerwear (car seat cover in the winter for example) could be needed for the ride home.
Diapers and wipes:
- The hospital/birth centre will have some on hand but it is a good idea to pack about 12 diapers and a pack of wipes.
- You can leave this in the car until you are ready to head home. If you are unsure of how to install the seat, go to https://www.ottawasafetycouncil.ca/bestfit-carseats/ for more information and https://www.cpsac.org/find-a-tech/ to find a Child Passenger Safety Technician in cities across Canada.
Baby nail file or clippers:
- Some babies are born with long nails, so you may want to have one on hand just in case.
During COVID times, they are restricting the number of bags you can bring in with you so be sure to check with your care provider what you are allowed and you may have to forego extra comforts or bulky items like extra blankets or pillows.