What pregnant women around the world pack in their hospital bag

Electricity, clean water and medical supplies - they are necessities Australian women can rely on being available at the hospital where they give birth. Sadly many women around the world are not so fortunate.

Charity organisation WaterAid has photographed the contents of the maternity bags of expectant mothers around the world, and the differences between those from developed and developing countries could not be more stark. 

The health facility where 23-year-old Ellen, from Malawi, gave birth has no clean running water, no sterilisation equipment and no electricity. More then 90 babies a month are delivered at the Simulemba Health Centre, but there are only four toilets for 400 people and the crumbling shower block has no doors or roof.

Hazel from Tanzania, Katy from Australia, and Agnes from Tanzania.
Hazel from Tanzania, Katy from Australia, and Agnes from Tanzania.  Photo: WaterAid

As a result, Ellen's maternity bag included a torch, a black plastic sheet to put on the delivery bed, a razor blade to cut the umbilical cord, string to tie the umbilical cord, a 200 Malawian kwacha note for food, and three large sarongs for her to wear and to wrap the baby in.

Likewise, Hazel from Zambia could not rely on a decent level of hygiene being provided at the hospital where she gave birth. So along with baby clothes and a blanket, her maternity bag contained a polythene roll to put on the delivery bed,  which is not cleaned between deliveries.

"We have a borehole at the clinic but there is no running water in the maternity ward," Hazel explained.

Meanwhile in countries like America, the UK and Australia the contents of maternity bags are more about comfort and luxuries. The availability of basics like electricity, clean water and medical supplies is not questioned.  

Deanna from New York City packed a music player, as well as lavender and coconut oil, among mints, a breastfeeding pillow and baby clothes.

"I feel so happy nurturing this life inside of me, it truly is a miracle," Deanna said.

"I also am very fortunate to live within walking distance of one of the best hospitals in New York City. 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."

Australian mum-to-be Katy, from Melbourne, was also thankful she could focus on the birth of her first child safe in the knowledge she has access to life's necessities.

"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," she said.

"I feel it is unbelievable that [heavily pregnant women have to collect dirty water themselves], dealing with the everyday stresses of pregnancy and the prospect of childbirth, as well as the additional burden of collecting water.

"Even carrying the maternity bag is too heavy for me, I couldn't imagine how I would cope if I had to carry 25 litres of water over a distance. Physically I don't know if I would be able to do it even before I was pregnant."

WaterAid is trying to raise awareness about the need for clean water, toilets and adequate hygiene in healthcare facilities worldwide.

WaterAid Australia's Chief Executive Paul Nichols said every minute a newborn baby dies from infection caused by a lack of safe water and an unclean environment somewhere in the world.

"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," he said.

"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."

Anyone wanting to donate to the work of WaterAid can visit their website here.