“Holy shit we need to go to the hospital now!”
I didn’t say that out loud of course, just in my head as I was freaking out about my wife being closer to giving birth than I thought.
This idiot got it all wrong, timing the contractions from start to finish instead of start to start (or was it the other way around?). Our little boy was closer to joining us than our useless app would suggest.
Ok ok, it was user error…
When we realised it was go-time, we rushed out of the house so fast that I forgot I was only wearing a t-shirt.
It was a bitterly cold morning in Canberra, minus 6 degrees C my car read on the dashboard. I didn’t feel a thing.
As the little snowflake light warned me about ice on the road, I sped (at the speed limit) down the road towards the hospital, nearly hitting a kangaroo that jumped out in the early morning light. Luckily we were only 8 minutes away. We made it.
No Kangaroos were harmed in the making of this story.
You know those times you drive somewhere and when you stop you can’t remember how you did it? That’s what happened to me the day our little boy came into the world. I went into action mode and my body took over, leaving my brain spinning on my pillow at home.
I couldn’t think about what we needed to take with us at the time and it was lucky we organised it before. Otherwise the baby would have come home wrapped in a towel. Yolo!?
What can dads do to prepare for birth?
As a father, it’s easy to think you don't have a part to play in the birth but it’s not true. This idea is perpetuated by the perception of men in pop culture. (A lot of p’s in that sentence sorry). The stereotype that men are blithering idiots and are likely to pass out at the sight of a woman having contractions is a largely outdated one. Don’t be that guy.
Preparation breeds success
And success in this context means having everything you need to make your birthing partners job easier.
The process starts far before the contractions begin. What you do in the lead up can have a big impact on both you and your partner's stress levels on the big day.
Benjamin Franklin once said:
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Now, I’m not familiar enough with American colonial history to know if Mr Franklin took part in any births or not. But the quote holds true.
Preparation is something that your partner may do instinctively. This ‘nesting’, involves things like setting up the baby's cot, cleaning the house or washing all of the baby's clothes.
It’s easy to put your feet up and let your partner handle all of this themselves. But it truly does take two to tango, so put on your dancing shoes! There is something you can do to help that will remove some of the stress in the lead up to the main event.
What is a birthing bag and why do I need one?
When I was competing in martial arts, my coach always suggested that I pack my bags the night before the tournament. I would do it every time with an almost militant grade level of organisation. Everything had its spot.
This ritual was great because it not only triggered me to start focussing on competition but it also put my mind at ease because I knew I had what I needed to be successful.
If all of my gear was ready, then I was too.
I’m not saying birth is like a martial arts tournament, although there are some similarities, but the principles of preparedness are the same.
We had our bag packed two weeks or so before our due date and it was comforting to know that we could grab it and go if we needed to. The items in the bag are all that you will have with you so making sure you pack the right things is essential.
Because I'm a nerd and I like diving into the specifics, here's a list of bags I recommend.
- Bellroy Weekender Plus - This is the perfect birthing bag, it's large enough to store everything you need and has plenty of internal pockets so you won't have to dig around for your gear.
- Bellroy Lite Duffel - Similar to the bag above but with a light-weight twist.
Let’s dive in and look at some not so obvious must-haves to keep you, your partner and your baby (babies?) happy in those first few hours.
What do I need to pack in our birthing bag?
What the heck is Colostrum!?
Colostrum, or ‘liquid gold’ as I like to call it, is the milk that is produced when breastfeeding begins. It’s nutrient-dense, full of protein, low in fat and does some super important things in the first couple of days of a baby's life.
It can fight infection, supports your baby's immune system, helps prevent jaundice and is even a mild laxative to help get that meconium out (newborn poo).
It’s a little thicker and yellower in colour than the mature breast milk we all know and love, and only lasts for a couple of days.
Why do you need colostrum in your birthing bag?
When our son was born, he and Katie had a tough time breastfeeding. He just wouldn’t latch on properly and wasn’t getting enough food the old fashioned way. Luckily we had a freezer full of colostrum that we could supplement with.
After every feed, I would stick my pinky finger in his mouth, put the tip of the syringe in there next to it and slowly pump in the colostrum.
Weirdly, it was our first moment of bonding and I’m super grateful that I could do that for him. It’s usually the mum that get’s that pleasure.
How do you collect collostrum?
In the last few weeks of pregnancy, you can collect small amounts of colostrum by ‘expressing’ it from the nipple/s. Handy tools like this Colostrum collector can be used to (I want to say harvest it?), or you can use sterile syringes.
You then freeze them for use in the first few days after birth. We had a large container full of them in the freezer with little dates written on them so we knew which ones to use first.
Just keep in mind that you have to freeze it within 24hrs and you can only keep it for 3 months
So if you have trouble breastfeeding, it’s great peace of mind to know that you have a backup supply ready to go if you need it.
Now before you read on to the next item, go and impress your partner with your newfound colostrum knowledge.
Shampoo and soap
While consulting my wife for this post the number one thing she wished she had at the hospital just after the birth of our son was her own soap.
Although the hospital did supply a generic head/body/toilet/paint thinner, the comfort that having your own products brings is hard to understate.
Having a shower was, my wife tells me, mind-bogglingly satisfying after you’ve spent the last few hours laying in your own body fluids.
The best thing to do is pick up some of those travel bottles and fill them up with all of the products your partner uses daily. Shampoo, soap, body wash, moisturiser (to replenish your body fluids?). Whatever they use, pack up some small bottles of it and throw it in the bag. Probably bring yourself some deodorant too, seriously, you'll find out why.
For the love of God, bring as much food as you can carry.
For some reason, hospitals have the most garbage options when it comes to food. It’s either meatloaf from a can and some steamed carrots or a packet of chips from the vending machine.
If you have any kind of dietary requirements, you’re fresh out of luck and it's best to bring your own just in case there are no options. Keep in mind that these days we have things like Uber Eats which we took full advantage of when my daughter was born but it wasn’t available a few years before with my son. Just make sure you’re allowed to bring hot food into the hospital otherwise you’ll be eating it outside.
While packing snacks into your bag, don’t forget to consider your own needs too. You may be there for a couple of days and trust me, you won't want to leave your partner to go and get something.
Some good food options to bring:
- Chocolate is a great pick me up when you need to power through but are short on time.
- High protein muesli bars, you smash one of these and it will stave off the hunger for as long as it takes. Any food with high protein and complex carbs will help mum get through those contractions.
- Bananas because they are my son's staple diet, are packed with energy and won’t make you feel like shit after.
- Two-minute noodles. There will be a hot water tap somewhere in the hospital, and if you have the time to sit down and eat for two minutes, you and your partner will be grateful for some actual (debatable) food.
- Nuts - A trail mix or just loose nuts are a great snack to have on hand. Being super high in energy, and easy to eat, it’s great for a mid birth pick me up.
The only things you will have to pack a bit later when the contractions start are perishable foods like fruit.
Squeezy drink bottle
No one ever tells you this! So here’s an exclusive tip from the immense minds of Dad Mode...
Say this out loud
**When your partner is giving birth, they can’t sit up to take a sip of your fancy stainless steel drink bottle.**
No matter what position they are in, it’s extremely difficult to move around enough to look at you let alone have a drink.
The solution is to get a water bottle that has a straw coming out of it, bonus points if it’s one of those squeezy ones so you can squirt the water into her mouth. Easy from any angle.
I reccomend these
- Mueller Quart Bottle w/ Straw - This one is my top pick, you'll look like your squirting water into Roky's mouth in between rounds.
- Triple-Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle with Straw - This one also looks good, it's triple insulated to keep your water cool.
What else do I need in the birthing bag?
There are a few more more things that I would add but don’t warrant their own section below. I've added links to some products I recommend.
- An extra-long charging cable for your phone. Great for when your partner is lying in bed and want’s to go on TikTok in between contractions. If there aren't any power outlets near by, a portable charger like this one is a must.
- Airpods. Wireless headphones are great so no one gets tangled when changing positions. Bonus points if they are noise cancelling.
- Lip balm. Hospitals are air-conditioned and can be super dry. Chapped lips are the last thing you want to be dealing with.
- A wet bag. If you’re running late to the hospital as we did, chances are there may be some fluid on your partner's clothes, throw these in a wet bag and deal with them when you get home.
- Hair ties. If your partner has long hair, you’re going to want to get that out of her face.
- A loose-fitting change of clothes (for both of you). There’s nothing like putting on some new clothes after a marathon (not that I would know) so bring a full change for both of you.
- Baby clothes and nappies (I almost forgot!) I’m sure this is obvious but make sure you bring a couple of changes of baby clothes and some spare nappies. The hospital should have some but it pays to be prepared.
The most important part of this exercise is to reduce the stress levels for both you and your partner, packing everything you need into a bag and having it ready to go will make your stay at the hospital a much smoother and more enjoyable experience. It's also an amazing way for you to get mentally prepared for you new family member to arrive.
You can adapt this list based on your individual needs and don’t hesitate to chop and change the items as you wish. Every birth is different.
That’s it! My list of the essential items you need to pack into your birthing bag.
See you in the next one x