Towards the end of pregnancy, as it becomes the focus of the nesting instinct, one bag and its contents never held such importance. What will you need? What is a waste of space?
If you are planning a home birth it is useful to have a bag with all the things you might need during and immediately after the birth. Everything is then in one place should you need someone else to find it for you, and if you do have to transfer into hospital, you won't have to pack a bag during labour, or rely on someone else to - and inevitably end up with the wrong pyjamas.
Pyjamas aside though, hospitals are alien environments, and your bag can become your own little slice of home. This is why they are so important to us.
Birthing women naturally seek out that which is comfortable and familiar. Feeling safe and secure is vital for the physiological progress of birth. Oxytocin, the hormone that drives contractions, is released more freely, and birth progresses more smoothly, when a woman's basic nesting urges are respected.
So how can we honour this is a hospital environment?
Lighting - Hospital lighting tends to be bright and flat, perfect for medics who need to see well to do their job. Counter-productive to labouring women, as oxytocin production is inhibited in bright environments. Some hospitals have lights that dim, if yours doesn't, take a small lamp with you. Even a bright desk lamp (a small one will pack down well) can be draped with a muslin to diffuse the light. Battery operated tea lights can also be used to great effect. Then turn off the main lights and relax.
Music - If you enjoy relaxing to music, take a small player and a collection of your favourites with you. If you are using hypnotherapy, it may even be possible to buy the background music from your hypnotherapy CD to help transport you back to that peaceful mindset. Moving around is great in early labour. Dance the baby down into your pelvis, stomp out the discomfort of your contractions. Don't just stick to gentle music, take something you will find entertaining and uplifting too.
Aromatherapy - Hospitals can smell strange, antiseptic and generally unhomely. Aromatherapy for birth is a huge topic, but even the most basic blends can be very beneficial. Clary Sage is excellent for promoting the progress of your labour, and breathed deeply during contractions provides some pain relief. Lavender is good for relaxing. The best vector for aromatherapy in birth is a flannel, or sponge, dipped into a small bowl of water with a few drops of the oil. This is easily removed if you suddenly decide you no longer like the scent.
Pillows - Useful for birth, and for nursing afterwards, there is nothing more comforting than your own pillows or bean bags. Use them to keep you in a comfortable, upright position if you tire during labour. Remaining upright helps the baby descend into the pelvis and promotes contractions. Sitting on a birth ball, or the edge of a chair, leaning forwards onto a pile of cushions, is restful without slowing your labour.
A massage ball - Lower back massage can give great relief in labour. A small hand held massage tool can turn any birth partner into an expert masseur.
Food - If you are planning on a natural birth, you will be able to sustain yourself through labour by snacking regularly, although some interventions will require you to stop solids in case you need an anaesthetic. You may not feel like eating for a period when labour is very intense. Regardless, once the baby arrives you will be ravenous, and hospital catering rarely hits the spot! Take a range of foods, as you cannot be sure what you will fancy. Oat based snacks like flapjack are great for slow-release energy, fruit or smoothies can be refreshing. It's good to have some drinks you enjoy too, or a bottle of squash to flavour your water.
There is also a point in labour when women often find themselves needing a last burst of energy before they start to push. Chocolate, or spoon-fed honey are commonly used here, but as a doula I once supported a woman who dosed up on jelly beans!
Your birth plan - Your plan is a written statement of your preferences in terms of your treatment. If you are planning a natural birth it is likely that some of these preferences with be different to the hospital's default policy. It may be the case that your health care professionals do not read it, however, should you not be in a state of mind to discuss your treatment your birth partner can point to your birth plan and advocate for you with authority.
These basic ideas will get you started, but remember, as the mum to be, you have the right to choose the circumstances of your birth. Anything that makes you, as an individual, feel safe, relaxed and loved will be valuable, even your favourite pyjamas.