I have been thinking about my birth and postpartum bag essentials for longer than I should probably admit.
With only 7ish weeks until babe #2 arrives I thought id stop procrastinating and start doing.
Admittedly, for my first birth, I didn't pack a single thing to provide comfort or assist in pain management. All I packed was a bra that got wet within 2 minutes of being in the birthing suite and in the shower.
Smart thinking, Amy!
For immediate postpartum, all I packed for myself was some giant undies and pjs that were far from breastfeeding friendly - not really the ideal postpartum recovery pack.
This time around I thought id up the ante with comfort and healing essentials for my bag.
I have done a lot of mental and physical preparation to get myself ready for this time so its time to get the material aspects in order.
Birth environment has a huge impact on a woman's ability to birth. Having a safe, welcoming space can support the natural progress of labour, whilst the opposite can hinder progress and lead to unnecessary interventions. This is one aspect I've had to do a lot of mental work around in the past 8 months - I had underlying PTSD issues related to past hospital stays. At my first prenatal appointments for this baby, I didn't think id even make it past the front door without having a panic attack and tears running down my face.
This became a huge worry for me, not only was I petrified of the hospital but I knew the implications of our body not feeling safe while in labour.
Fortunately, with a plan in place Ive been able to move past it and can now associate the hospital with a positive experience. Now, more than ever, I see how crucial it is that I create a calm, welcoming and safe space for me to birth.
Please note that the things I mention (if you choose to use them) may need to be set up by your birthing partner/support person, depending how far into your labour you are, setting up a diffuser may be the last thing you're thinking of. Hence, why we plan these things in advance...
Birth Choices List:
With that being said, on top of my list is (ironically, another) list - a list of your birth choices to be handed to the midwives/care provider on arrival.
Yes, I'm fully aware that birth is the most unpredictable of any life event, however, if we are granted anything in life it is our ability to birth how we choose. Unfortunately, it is common for a woman to emerge from birth these days saying phrases like "they did not let me" or "I was not allowed".
Please know, that your human rights trump any hospital policy.
How you choose to give birth is your birth right.
The birth choices list can include:
Birthing environment choices e.g. dimming lights, quiet/minimal conversation, use of diffuser/essential oils, taking photos etc.
Labour choices e.g. minimal vaginal exams, analgesics, presence of students, labouring positions, tearing vs episiotomy, water immersion, specific language to be used etc.
After birth choices e.g. skin to skin, placenta delivery, delayed chord clamping, breast crawl, vaccinations, bonding time etc.
Becoming informed of your birth choices is key to having an empowering birth, no matter what turn your birth may take.
A Good Birthing Partner:
This may seem like a no brainer, but having the right support person can be key to whether or not you feel calm in your birthing space. It is essential you have conversations about your requests with your birthing partner/support person prior to arriving at the birth space. My husband was busy texting people when we first arrived and it made me furious, upped my stress levels and was hard to calm down for a period of time.
Yes, its not the right time/place to be texting every single family member, but I didn't place these expectations on him before birth and he is no mind reader, so how was he to know any better? This time I'm making it very clear of my expectations, when I feel chatting on the phone is acceptable and when support is needed in other areas.
Birth is a time when it is all about you, so don't let anyone make it about them.
This includes bringing up their own fears at birth e.g. are they ok seeing you in pain? If they aren't, they may not be the right person to be in the room with you. Make them aware of your birth choices so that they can advocate for you in the instance that you can't do it yourself.
Now that I've got the mental aspects of birth covered, lets get into the fluffy stuff. Literally, a pillow.
Your pillow is something you use every day as you wind down for the day so what could be more comforting than making it feel like your own bed? (that is, if you choose to lie down)
Clothes for Labour:
Please be smarter than I was and bring something comfy to labour in or you'll end up in one of those very uncomfortable hospital gowns that make you feel like you're a sick patient the second you put them on.
This time I'm bringing swimmers, several crops, large t-shirts, warm socks and several undies that I won't be worried about ruining (from all the lovely bodily fluids).
Diffuser/ Essential Oils:
I am packing oils that are known to assist in labour. I am making up a grounding/calming spray, an active labour blend to roll on my lower back, a massage oil to help release endorphins and singular oils to place in my diffuser for the room such as clary sage, lavender, orange and peppermint. Im also splurging and buying myself a new diffuser to use on the day.
Music / Earphones:
This one is dependant on whether or not you will find music/meditative tracts distracting or calming. Im packing cordless earphones, preempting that the chords I may find annoying when I'm in labour. These are also useful if you plan on labouring/birthing in the bath. I will be playing my hypnobirthing tracks to keep myself calm but your music can be anything that puts your mind at ease, could anything from Taylor Swift to Spice Girls!
Heat is a simple but effective pain relief option. Heat is known to stimulate sensory receptors, block the transmission of pain signals to the brain and ultimately provide relief.
A TENS Machine:
Another wonderful, natural form of pain relief. A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machine is a small, portable, battery operated device that sends pulsed electrical stimulus to nerves via electrode pads placed on the skin. It assists with reducing back pain associated with labour in two ways, by causing the body to release endorphins and by blocking the pain messages being sent to the brain. The ELLE TENS Machine is made specifically for labour, perfectly safe for both you and baby. You can hire them or purchase them online.
Your hospital may provide these upon request, find this out before your birthing day if you wish to use one in birth. Sitting on a exercise ball during labour can help baby adopt an optimal position and bouncing or doing hip circles can move the baby down the birth canal. It can also put pressure on the cervix, causing it to thin,open and progress your labour.
Scarf / Rebozo:
A rebozo is a long, woven scarf made by women for women. If you don't have one of these, a long steady scarf will do the trick. It is generally placed underneath the woman's lower abdomen whilst she is standing on on all fours, and assists by relaxing tight uterine ligaments and abdominal muscles and lifting the weight of the belly off the mama's back.
Check out spinning babies for other rebozo techniques to use in pregnancy and birth.
Magnesium / Epsom Salts:
Magnesium is a wonderful tool to use during pregnancy and early labour to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, relax muscles and reduce cramping. Magnesium is best absorbed transdermal (through your skin). I have been using magnesium oil on the soles of my feet each night during pregnancy to prevent leg cramps and epsom/magnesium flakes in the bath to relax at night/ improve my sleep. You can use these if you are labouring at home in the bath or if your care provider has the option of a bath.
A spray bottle is great for cooling down your face/body during labour. Our hormones do an incredible job of heating up our body during birth. After my last birth, my birthing partners mentioned the room was freezing, meanwhile I was sweating up a storm!
According to most hospital policies, you aren't "allowed" to eat during labour. The main reason they try to prevent this is to prepare you for the event of having a surgical birth.
I was cooking dinner when my body decided to start labour last time, I became so distracted that I forgot to eat, so by the time I got to hospital I was starving. I asked them for something and they gave me a singular cracker - such a nutritious option at a time when we need more energy than ever (sarcasm, if you hadn't picked up on it). Although, labour is a time when you can feel quite nauseous and have a minimal appetite, I am preempting that I may be hungry at one point and will be bringing options to fuel my body.
I will be freezing bliss balls to snack on during labour that will be full of good fats, carbohydrates and protein.
Labour is thirsty work! I was so dehydrated last labour that they decided to hook me up to a drip, this unfortunately, limited my movement so hydration is priority for me this time. Dehydration is a cause for irritable uterus and it cannot contract properly if you are too dehydrated. A large drink bottle with coconut water or filtered water with a pinch of himalayan salt will ensure you stay hydrated throughout labour.
- Phone charger
- Lip balm
- Plastic bag for wet/dirty stuff
- Antenatal card (yellow card)
Anyone who has birthed before will know that immediate postpartum is far from glamorous. There's swelling, possible perineal tears, after pains, an increase in body fluids or you may be recovering from a major surgery (caesarian), all whilst trying to bond with your new bubba and learning to breastfeed (if you choose to).
This time around I am bringing essentials to make myself feel comfortable after the huge feat that is birth.
Please note some of the items on this list may already be provided by your caretaker, I am choosing to bring my own in the case that they don't provide the essentials.
Maternity Pads or Disposable Undies:
This one is a personal choice, you may feel more supported in the disposable undies or may prefer maternity pads the size of a surfboard. I have chosen TOM Organic Pads for recovery. Most hospitals provide their own pads but they can often feel like a piece of cardboard in your undies so i've decided to buy my own this time around.
A Peri Bottle:
Going to the toilet after birth can be an “interesting” experience.
A peri bottle can be helpful after birth by:
- Decreasing sensation when urinating (fill the bottle with warm water and squirt onto the area)
- You can use it instead of wiping, if you experienced tearing during birth and had to get stitches, the peri bottle will be helpful in washing the area until the stitches dissolve
- You can use it to clean your perineum area in general, even if you don't need to go to the toilet
Witch Hazel Padsicle:
These are pads you can prepare before you go into labour to reduce inflammation and increase healing time.
To make these you will need:
- Pack of maternity pads
- Bottle of witch hazel
- Pure lavender essential oil
- Pure frankincense essential oil
- Spray bottle
Step 1: Open each maternity pad, leaving the pad attached to its wrapper.
Step 2: Fill a spray bottle with the bottle of witch hazel, 15 drops of lavender and 15 drops of frankincense.
Step 3: Spray the maxi pad with the witch hazel/ essential oil spray bottle.
Step 4: Fold up the pad and either insert it into a plastic freezer bag or wrap it with plastic wrap.
Step 5: Keep in freezer until you go to the hospital or your support person bring them in after birth
Breast/ Perineum ice packs:
I wish I had these first time around instead of piling cabbage leaves down my top (still beneficial just not as comfortable).
BodyICE Women have created a maternity recovery pack that includes two comfy breast pads and a dependable perineum strip, provide cooling or warming relief in all your sensitive areas. If you choose to breastfeed, when your milk comes in (generally around day 3 post-birth), it can be quite painful so having these on hand will provide some relief for the engorgement.
When your milk comes in (again, only if you choose to breastfeed) you may be one of the mamas who has an oversupply, like myself, and need some extra padding in your nursing bra to prevent leakage. I tried out the disposable breast pads last time and was not a fan, they felt like cardboard and the amount I was going through was not great for the environment. I was lucky enough to be gifted some homemade washable breast pads and they were a game changer - super soft, could reuse and as a bonus were quite beautiful. I've stocked up on some more this time around, supporting some local mamas who make these for their business.
If you are breastfeeding, comfortable nursing bras are essential. One for day time use and one that you are comfortable sleeping in. It doesn't feel normal for most people to sleep in a bra so make sure you find some that are wire free and don't dig into your skin while you sleep. It is hard to pre-empt how large your breasts will grow so you may need to shop again once your milk has come in.
Nipple cream/ nipple shields:
Babies can be like little piranhas to your poor nipples and cluster feeding to build your milk supply can be quite tortuous, so having a nipple cream on hand is essential. My first born had a minor tongue tie and a “lazy latch” when she was a newborn so wasn't able to feed unless I used a nipple shield for a long time. If you feel the nipple cream isn't helping, ask the midwife for a nipple shield to help you through the initial phase of learning to breastfeed.
Your own toiletries:
If you're anything like I was, the first shower after birth is so comforting (and so necessary). The midwives came in to check on me after half an hour in the shower to see if I was still alive - I just didn't want to get out. If you're giving birth in the public system you will be provided with an all-in-one wash that smells like disinfectant and makes your hair feel like straw. I have learnt my lesson and will be bringing my own toiletries this time including shampoo/conditioner, body wash, toothbrush/paste, face wash etc to make it feel a little more like home.
After having your baby, your body is severely depleted of a lot of necessary nutrients. If you are breastfeeding, it’s even more crucial to keep up with your nutrient requirements to ensure you have a steady milk supply and provide nourishment for both you and baby.
Bone Broth/ Snacks:
If there is one thing I recommend you eat directly after birth it would definitely be bone broth. Records of traditional Chinese healing praises bone broth for its ability to boost chi, build blood and restore adrenal function. Bone broth is also known for its hydrating power which is essential for breastfeeding.
Food options provided in the hospital are far from desirable and often lacking essential nutrient requirements - especially for post-birth recovery. Private hospitals are now offering high tea as an after-birth celebration, which, although sounds glamorous is far from what your body actually needs to recovery from birth.
You can store your bone broth in the freezer ready for birth or buy one (like I have) ready to go in your hospital bag.
Breastfeeding requires more water intake than the average person. An average person should have 2 litres of water a day, and breastfeeding mama’s need at least 2.7 litres.
When I was breastfeeding my first born in the early days my body gave me thirst cues the instant I sat down to breastfeed, often when I didn't have a water bottle in arms reach.
A large water bottle is essential, especially when establishing your milk supply.
Breastfeeding friendly clothes/pjs:
If you are breastfeeding, button down pj’s, tops are wonderful to pack so you don't have to think about lifting your top every time you feed.
If this is your first bubba, you may have some down time whilst baby is sleeping. Birth is hard work for you and baby! Instead of sitting there on your phone each time your baby falls asleep, you could either sleep yourself, or bring something that brings you happiness, a book, listen to a podcast, watch a show on netflix etc.
I hope this was helpful in providing you options to create your own positive birthing space and increase your postpartum healing.
Please share to any mamas-to-be who may find this useful.
Happy birthing vibes,