Packing Your Hospital Bag? This Midwife Says A Tennis Ball Should Be Top Of Your List

"These essentials can make the difference between a good birth and a great birth," says midwife Emily Street.
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There are lots of things we’re told about pregnancy, but when it actually happens to you, you realise there’s so much more to learn. In Unexpected, we’ll chart some of the less spoken about things that happen in the months between finding out you’re pregnant and giving birth.

A midwife has shared some of her must-haves for hospital birth bags – and apparently a tennis ball should be top of your list.

“You’ve probably packed your dressing gown and giant pants but there are things you won’t have thought of,” says Emily Street, midwife manager at The Birth Company, part of The Portland Hospital (HCA Healthcare UK).

Here are the items that she believes every parent should have in their bag when they give birth in hospital because they “can make the difference between a good birth and a great birth”.

Tennis ball (and an old sock)

The midwife – who is a mum-of-four – recommends packing a tennis ball and an old sock so your birth partner can massage you with it while you’re in labour.

“Tennis balls are the best massage tool going,” she says. “Stick one in the end of a sock and use the sock to secure the ball into your birth partner’s hand.

“They then have a good grip on the ball to be able to give a great massage to your lower back and hips without it hurting their hands.”

A massage sounds good at any time – but during labour, when your lower back is in bits, it’s a game changer.

A mirror

The midwife suggests you might want to pack a mirror so you can look at the baby’s head as it crowns (if you’re having a vaginal birth).

“There is nothing more encouraging than seeing how your baby’s head is advancing through your effort,” she says.

“As a midwife I have seen this be the make or break between a mum having a normal delivery and a forceps delivery.”

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Flip flops

When packing your hospital bag you can get hung up on all the stuff for your tiny baby and the things to make your labour easier, but less about the essentials you’ll need in the following days after birth if you have to stay in hospital.

Showers in NHS hospitals are used by lots of mums and while they’re regularly cleaned, you’ll probably want to wear some flip flops in there for hygiene reasons, suggests the midwife.


While hospitals do provide paracetamol for those giving birth, they don’t provide it to birth partners – who inevitably always end up a bit dehydrated. Cue the headaches.

“Labour wards can be very hot and stressful, the perfect recipe for headaches – so make sure you have some [paracetamol] with you so your helpers are in tip top form,” says Street.

Eye mask and ear plugs

You might have packed these for after the birth when you stay overnight in hospital, but Street advises whipping them out earlier as they’re “a must for an undisturbed, easy labour”.

“Using an eye mask and ear plugs to block out light and sounds is probably the most important thing you can do for yourself in labour,” says the midwife.

“You may have heard people talking about being in ‘the zone’ or their own ‘little bubble’. In this zone, our own bodies are much more effective at labouring.”

Your own pillow

Labour wards aren’t exactly spa-like, so it’s well worth taking your own belongings to bring a more homely vibe to the situation. One essential is your own pillow, says Street.

“Our minds are strongly influenced by smells,” she explains. “Having your own soft pillow that smells of home does far more for our relaxation than the simple comfort factor.

“Your mind is triggered to relax when you are in your own familiar environment and taking your own pillow is like taking your mind back home.”

And a relaxed mind equates to an easier birth, she adds.

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Soft toilet roll

If you have a vaginal birth things can get quite sore downstairs in the days after labour – especially if you experience tearing.

As a result, the midwife recommends taking your own soft toilet roll for when you do need to use the loo.

“NHS toilet roll is not the softest,” she says. “Pack yourself a nice cushy one, you’ll thank me for it.”

Birth plan

Birth preparation and birth plans are also really key, she says. If you haven’t yet started yours, check out our guide to writing one (which comes with a free downloadable NHS template).

Other items you might want to pack:

  • Snacks for labour and your hospital stay
  • A large refillable water bottle (staying hydrated is important, especially if you’re going to be breastfeeding)
  • Comfortable clothes
  • Button down pyjamas (to make breastfeeding easier)
  • Oversized t-shirt/nighties for labour
  • Maternity pads (don’t use sanitary pads as these can increase infection risk)
  • Nursing bras and knickers (lots of these!)
  • A wash bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, flannel, soap, deodorant, hair ties, moisturiser and any other toiletries you might need
  • Towels
  • Dressing gown and slippers
  • Any medicines you’re taking
  • Books, magazines, an iPad with your favourite shows downloaded
  • Phone charger / power bank for charging as sometimes there aren’t plugs free
  • A fan or water spray to cool you down
  • A portable bidet sprayer

For your baby, you might want to pack:

  • bodysuits, vests and sleepsuits
  • an outfit for going home in
  • a hat, scratch mittens and socks or booties
  • plenty of nappies and wipes/cotton wool
  • a blanket
  • muslin squares or bibs
  • a car seat for the trip home
Sarah Maxwell for HuffPost