The Essentials for Giving Birth Around the World

A photo series reveals what expectant mothers in various countries bring with them to the hospital.

Sam Morgan / WaterAid

For most expecting mothers in the Western world, a hospital bag is something that makes the birthing process marginally more comfortable. You’ve just brought a new being into the world; you deserve to wear your own sweatpants.

But in some parts of the world, hospitals are so bare-bones that women in labor must tote everything with them, from rubber gloves to water pans to gauze.

To draw attention to the difficulty of giving birth in regions where water is scarce, the organization WaterAid recently dispatched photographers to ask expecting and brand-new moms in various countries to open up their hospital bags. Here are their photos, as well as lightly edited interviews with the moms conducted by WaterAid.

Anna Kari / WaterAid

Cathelijne Geuze (U.K.)

“I am bringing mainly clothes for myself and the baby, and some snacks, also an e-reader and an iPod, but I don't know if I will have time to use it. And a water bottle! My first labor was very long and I did not want to eat, but the water bottle for keeping hydrated was very useful. I bought lots of snacks, because the first time I remember getting a very boring breakfast of white bread and cornflakes after giving birth.

The most special thing in the bag is the hand knitted blanket my aunt made, my mother bought the yarn and my aunt knitted it. It was the first thing I found to pack.”


Takako Ishikawa (Japan)


“-Clothes for the newborn baby. He/she will wear them when we leave the hospital
-Insurance card, seal impression, consent form for hospitalization, consent form for blood transfusion, mother-and-child health record notebook, patient’s registration ticket
-Maternity shorts (puerperant panties), crop-top bra (easier for breast feeding training and/or consultation)
-Daily sanitary goods such as shampoo or tooth brush
-Tissue paper

Women should not touch water right after a delivery, for about a month. It means that women should concentrate on taking care of her baby, not housework, including using water for cooking and washing. It is said that symptoms of climacterium [psychological and biological adjustment] tend to be worse if a woman used water soon after the delivery. Although I am not sure if this is reliable, it has been handed down for long time. With the development of technology, we now have highly developed home appliances and food delivery services which allow us to live without touching water a lot in housework, so it may be one of the reasons why Japanese live longer than before.”

WaterAid / Behailu Shiferaw

Mestawet Legesse (Ethiopia)

“I have already given birth to three children, so I know a thing or two about it. So I brought with me a towel to hold and cover the baby with. That is all he needs for now. For myself, I brought sanitary napkins, some underwear, sweatpants and a long loose dress, a pair of socks and a bottle of Mirinda [orange soda]. The Mirinda helps move your stomach as if to throw up, and it helps to turn the baby around so it goes out properly.”

Jordi Ruiz Cirera / WaterAid

Chadla Suyhidy Morales Benjamio (Nicaragua)

“I have my sheets, my towel, a sweater, and some cotton to put in my ears after giving birth. And something to tie my hair with.

They tell me the way I should bathe my baby and that the baby has to bathe every day … I think everything is good, but the earliest only problem I have is that the water from the well irritates my skin. It itches a lot and it also gives me an allergy, leaving scars on my skin and I cannot drink the water.”

James Kiyimba / WaterAid

Kemisa Hidaya (Uganda)

“In preparation for my child’s delivery, the midwife gave me a list of things to bring in my mama kit. In private hospitals pregnant women don’t have to take all these things, but those who deliver in public hospitals have to because services here are over subsidized.

I was requested to come along with the following:
1. Two nylon sheets which are spread on the bed during childbirth
2. Ten pairs of gloves, but I only bought two because I did not have money to buy 10.
3. A pair of new razor blades for use during the childbirth process
4. Cotton wool roll for padding and cleaning blood in the process of delivery
5. Washing soap powder for cleaning the labor room after delivery
6. A bottle of Jik disinfectant
7. Bucket and basin for bathing and urination
8. Flask for hot drinking water and cups
9. A roll of toilet paper
10. Baby receiver to cover the baby
11. Nappies
12. Bedding for use while in the hospital
13. Emergency money

In addition to the things demanded by the midwife at the hospital, there are others I bought specifically for my baby and these include a pair of bed sheets for the baby, baby sweater, a cap to cover the head, and body stockings.”

Chileshe Chanda / WaterAid

Merina Milimo (Zambia)

“We bought the following for our baby: a baby blanket, napkins, a peg for clipping the umbilical cord, chitenge (wraps), cotton wool, my sanitary pads, and a dish. We also got a baby suit and several other baby clothes. My favorite is the baby dress, which I bought. If it is a boy, then then I will just keep this dress for the babies to come.

I have heard elderly people saying that while I am pregnant, I should not eat boiled eggs or potatoes because the baby would be born without hair. I was also told not to put on clothes that have a belt to tie around my stomach. They said the umbilical cord will tie around the baby and make it difficult when delivering.”

Sam Morgan / WaterAid

Tiff Rolf (U.S.)

“The only mandatory thing to bring to the hospital is a car seat to take the baby home. The rest are things to make my hospital stay more comfortable: my birth plan, pajamas, flip-flops and slippers, snacks, mother's milk tea (to help with breast milk), and a cute outfit for the baby to wear home. And a present from him to his big sister—a lollipop and some Playdoh.”

Ernest Randriarimalala / WaterAid

Marie Lucette (Madagascar)

“During my last check-up here a few weeks ago, our midwife told us to buy and bring everything we would need before, during, and after the delivery. These were items like a receiving blanket, a compress, cotton wool, nappies, new clothes made of cotton for the baby and warm clothes, flip flops, a thermos, a sheet and pads for myself.

But as some of my family are also here to support me, they brought almost everything that we will need to be able to stay here for a few days. This includes our cooking pot, firewood, plates, spoons, food like rice and some vegetables. They also brought for me a chicken for soup because I really need it after the delivery. Chicken soup is really effective for recovering quickly after giving birth and also helps with breastfeeding.

In my village we have many traditions, taboos, and things that you can’t do during your pregnancy. For example, pregnant women should not put ginger in their pocket. If women do put ginger in their pocket, their baby will grow a sixth finger or toe. I do follow them all because I try to be respectful. I don’t want to be cursed by ancestors, and above all I don’t want something bad happening to my new baby.”