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Inside the maternity bags of expectant mothers around the world

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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If you were about to give birth, what essential items would you want to pack into your maternity bag?

For expectant mothers in Western parts of the world, the bag might be stuffed full of comfy clothing, iPods and scented massage oils.

But for those in less developed areas, the word "essentials" takes on a whole new meaning. Women travelling to give birth in labour wards that often feature broken toilets and limited clean water supplies may have to take items such as their own plastic sheets, buckets and torches.

To highlight the difficulty of labour in areas where clean water is in short supply, the global charity Water Aid have travelled across the world to take beautiful snapshots of pregnant women and their maternity bags.

Click the squares below to see the truly eye-opening content of seven different maternity bags, from the UK to Madagascar.

  • Ellen Phiri, 23, Simulemba Health Centre, Malawi

    Ellen gave birth in Simulemba Health Centre, which serves over 70,000 people and delivers more than 90 babies a month. It has no clean running water, only four toilets for 400 people, showers that are a crumbling block with no doors or roof and no sterilisation equipment.

    Water is collected from a water pump shared with the local community of 2000 people. This water is not clean and queues to access it are very long. 

    Water Aid/Jenny Lewis

  • Ellen Phiri, 23, Simulemba Health Centre, Malawi

    What’s in the bag?
    - Torch, as there is no electricity supply
    - Black plastic sheet, to put on the delivery bed as, with no clean water, it’s hard to keep the delivery room and beds clean.
    - Razor blade to cut the umbilical cord
    - String, to tie the umbilical cord
    - 200 Malawian Kwacha note for food
    - Three large sarongs for the mother to wear for their stay (which could be as long as four weeks) and to wrap the baby in.

    Water Aid/Jenny Lewis

  • Razafindrabary Claudine, 26, Soavina Health Centre, Madagascar

    "My family told me about the taboos around pregnancy and I’ve tried to follow them. For me, the main one is not putting a scarf around my neck during my pregnancy because if I do my baby could be born with the umbilical cord wrapped around their neck.

    So I don’t wear a scarf. I don’t even have one at home because I want my baby to be born naturally without anything around his neck."

    WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

  • Razafindrabary Claudine, 26, Soavina Health Centre, Madagascar

    What's in the bag?
    - New clothes
    - Cotton wool
    - Alcohol for cleaning
    - Nappies
    - Thermos
    - Bucket
    - Sanitary pads

    WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

  • Razafindrabary Claudine, 26, Soavina Health Centre, Madagascar

    WaterAid/Ernest Randriarimalala

  • Katy Shaw, 31, Melbourne, Australia

    “I feel it is unbelievable that women are in that position (heavily pregnant women collecting dirty water themselves in the countries where WaterAid works), 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 25litres of water over a distance. Physically I don’t know if I would be able to do it even before I was pregnant.”

    WaterAid/James Grant

  • Katy Shaw, 31, Melbourne, Australia

    What’s in the bag?
    - Toiletries 
    - Snacks 
    - Nappies
    - Hat
    - Socks
    - Mittens
    - Clothes and swaddles for the baby 
    - Clothes for me
    - Night dresses 
    - Maternity underwear 
    - Maternity pads and nursing pads 
    - Massage oils

    WaterAid/James Grant

  • Katy Shaw, 31, Melbourne, Australia

    WaterAid/James Grant

  • Deanna Neiers, 39, New York City

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

    I imagine a world where all women have a safe, clean place to birth their babies.”

    WaterAid/John Neiers

  • Deanna Neiers, 39, New York City

    What’s in the bag?
    - Music player
    - Coconut oil for massage
    - Lavender oil
    - Arnica gel and 
    - Snacks 
    - Nursing bra and pads 
    - Nursing pillow
    - Comfortable clothes to wear at the hospital and to travel back home. 
    - Soft swaddle blanket for baby
    - A long-sleeve onesie
    - A knitted hat

    WaterAid/John Neiers

  • Deanna Neiers, 39, New York City

    WaterAid/John Neiers

  • Hazel Shandumba, 27, Hamangaba, Zambia

    "We have a borehole at the clinic but there is no running water in the maternity ward. I have heard elderly women telling different do and don’ts for a pregnant woman like me.

    One of the things I was told is not to sleep too much during daytime. I was told if I do, the baby would also sleep at the time of delivery." 

    WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

  • Hazel Shandumba, 27, Hamangaba, Zambia

    What’s in the bag?
    - Baby blanket
    - Cotton wool
    - Sarong (Chitenge)
    - A baby suit 
    - Napkins
    - A dish for water to wash with
    - A polythene roll to put on the delivery bed to maintain personal hygiene as there is not enough water and time to clean the delivery bed

    WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

  • Hazel Shandumba, 27, Hamangaba, Zambia

    WaterAid/Chileshe Chanda

  • Joanna Laurie, 34, London, UK

    “I have packed a water bottle, my sister suggested to bring something to make it (water) easier to drink (during labour). I will bring it empty and I assuming the hospital will have somewhere I can fill it.

    They must have a water fountain. I am taking that for granted, unlike people in Africa. The most important thing in the bag is the blanket my mum gave me to bring the baby home in, the same one my mother brought me home in.” 

    WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • Joanna Laurie, 34, London, UK

    What’s in the bag?
    - Nappies 
    - Little white clothes for the baby 
    - Some knitted trousers
    - Lots of snacks
    - My clothes 
    - My own towel
    - Toiletries 
    - A TENS machine 
    - Maternity pads 
    - iPad
    - Water bottle
    - Medical notes
    - A blanket

    WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • Joanna Laurie, 34, London, UK

    WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • Agnes Noti, 22, Kiomboi Hospital, Tanzania

    "I come from Tutu. The water for drinking, we buy from the shop. The water from the river is not safe for drinking."

    There is one, broken and unpleasant toilet in the labour ward – it’s in very bad condition. There is no shower – so after giving birth, women either wash in the toilet, or they climb into the sink in the sluice room to wash.

    WaterAid/Anna Kari

  • Agnes Noti, 22, Kiomboi Hospital, Tanzania

    What’s in the bag?
    - Clothes for the baby
    - A cape (blanket) for the baby
    - Socks
    - A basin
    - A flask
    - Tea

    WaterAid/Anna Kari

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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