What do you need for a home birth?

I’m writing a lot of lists at the moment, lists of what I need for the baby and for the birth. I like writing lists. I get a bit anal about them. Every week before I go grocery shopping I write out my list, price it online and then I put it in the order that I’ll come across it in the store. It’s not enough to put it under sections like vegetables, it literally has to be written in the order these things are on the shelves.

I’m taking a similar approach to baby organising. I have the things I need written out in order of priority, some things we will need immediately, like a cot mattress, some things can wait a while, like a buggy board. Then there are all the things I need for the birth itself.

One question I frequently see asked on the Home Birthing board that I co-admin, is “What do I need for my home birth?”

Planning a home birth does involve a certain amount of shopping, but a hospital birth involves that too, there are just a few things you need to take into consideration when at home.

Where are you going to give birth? 

One of the beauties of birthing at home is that you can go with the flow. I have spoken with women who have given birth in their bedrooms, their bathrooms, in their hallways, their living rooms, even one who gave birth on the stairs, but it’s helpful beforehand to have an idea of which room you think you’ll want to give birth in.

For me it has always been the living room. It’s the biggest room in the house, has the most floor space, is easily accessible by the front or back door, and I never had to worry about the floor supporting the weight of a filled birthing pool. The idea of giving birth in my bedroom (which suggests bed and lying down) never appealed to me. I wanted to be able to retreat to my bed afterwards. I didn’t want to have to change gunk covered sheets first.

Whichever room you decide you want to give birth in, you’ll need something to protect the floor or any other surfaces that you think you might give birth on i.e. bed, sofa etc. A sheet of tarpaulin is good or several cheap shower curtains. In addition to that it’s helpful to have some of those big absorbent pads. You can use these to sit on, to cover a pillow that you are leaning on or to sit on your birthing ball. Your midwife (in the UK anyway) will probably have several of these in her kit, but I’ve always bought some of the Pampers care mats in advance of the birth and put them onto my bed on the off chance that my waters should break in the night (MUCH cheaper than buying a new mattress).

Ah it should be noted that there is a reasonable chance you will throw up while in labour. It’s a good idea to have something to catch it. A basin will do.

It also helps to have some (possibly old, possibly just cheap) sheets or bath towels. Primark and Matalan are excellent for these. You can bin them afterwards if you don’t feel like washing them, but should you (well not you, your partner or other willing person) stick them in the washing machine soon after the birth with a bit of soda crystals they will wash up very well.

Oh and don’t forget your camera. More importantly don’t forget to have someone well drilled in how to work the camera and WHEN they should use it. I have a real lack of photos from my home births which is a constant source of disappointment to me.

Are You Planning to Birth In Water? 

If you are planning a water birth, well obviously this may have a big effect on which room you decide to birth in, mostly because it’s best to be somewhere that isn’t too far from the taps. You also need to think about whether you plan to rent a birthing pool, or to buy one.

I bought a birthing pool. This was largely because it was vastly cheaper than renting one, and as I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the use the pool or not I didn’t want to spend several hundred pounds on it. Buying a pool has a few advantages, for one thing you can quite often re-sell it on ebay, or after a judicious cleaning with some milton you have either a fantastic paddling pool or ball pool for your little ones to play with. You can also re-use the pool should you have another birth. The La Bassine (which I have) is guaranteed for 10 births. Go forth and multiply indeed.

But there are several advantages to renting a pool too. A rented pool is likely to have sturdy sides (most bought pools are inflatable) and to have an internal heater/thermostat that will keep it at the right temperature. With an inflatable pool you will have to rely on a bath thermometer and buckets of hot water to keep it right.

But whatever pool you go for, you are likely to need most of the following:

  • Pool
  • Pump to inflate the pool
  • Submersible pump to empty the pool. Okay this is definitely optional but it is much less work than carrying buckets.
  • A debris net to remove any… floaters. A sieve bought from your local pound shop will do the job.
  • Bath thermometer to help you keep the pool at body temperature.
  • Pool liner
  • Heat retaining cover. This is another optional item, but can be especially handy with an inflatable pool, should you need/want to get out for any length of time.
  • A Mirror – you may want this so you can see the baby crowning, or for the midwife to examine you without having to get out of the water or be hands on.


What are Your Thoughts on Pain Relief? 

If you are home-birthing in the UK, you will have access to two and only two pharmaceutical modes of pain relief. These are entonox (gas and air) and pethidine. Personally I LOVE gas and air. Really I think it’s so unfair that we only get access to it when we can’t fully enjoy it. Some people absolutely hate it, and it makes some people feel very sick. My poor best friend with whom I share too much is in that category, she vomited quite spectacularly on a midwife’s head during her labour, thanks to gas and air. But I’ll be honest, gas and air does not take the pain away, not at all. It helps you relax a little, it gives you something to focus on (I think half of it’s success is having the mouth-piece to bite on) and it helps to regulate your breathing.

Now I’m in the camp of people who thinks that pethidine is the devil (The Best Friend with Whom I Share too Much on the other hand LOVED pethidine). I had it when I had my eldest child and I would never take it again. It made me drowsy and insensible and made my daughter very hard to feed after she was born, but for some people it works brilliantly. Again it doesn’t take the pain away, it takes the edge off it, which for some people is just enough space to make the experience much more bearable. Though if you do have pethidine, you won’t be able to get into a birthing pool.

Your decisions about how you hope to manage your pain will inform your shopping list. So you might want to try the following –

  • A TENS machine. Early on in labour these are fantastic and I have always used them to good effect. You can buy one or you can hire them for not too much money. It’s important to get one that is designed for labour though, and has a boost function on it. It’s worth asking about if you can borrow one. In my first home birth I was able to borrow one from the Parent Craft midwives at my local hospital, for my second home birth I borrowed one from the midwife attached to my local Surestart.
  • Hot water bottle – for hot compresses, alternatively you can put ice in a polythene bag and wrap it in a tea towel (or use the old bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) for a cold compress.
  • Massage oils – friction is never good, especially in labour. http://www.birthease.co.uk sell a nice range of reasonably priced birth massage oils. I like the smell of them, they have lavender, jasmine and clary sage oil. Lovely.
  • Birthing ball – these are fab to have WELL before D-Day. They are excellent for all sorts of things, helping the baby to get into position, improving your posture, relieving strain on your back, your hips etc. Move about on the birth ball in labour help the baby to descend and rotate and helps you to feel on top of the pain. I delivered my last two babies leaning over a birthing ball.

Nice To Have

These are the things that aren’t really essential, but are nice to have.

  • Bendy straws or ice chips. I always got very thirsty in labour but trying to drink straight from a glass made me feel quite sick. Straws are a good way to sip and keep your fluids up.
  • Essential oils and candles. Again I’d recommend lavender, jasmine, rose or clary sage (for the record my husband HATES the smell of clary sage). Just like with a romantic night in or a hot date, it helps to set the atmosphere. Your labour is reliant in so many ways on the hormone Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the exact same hormone that you release when you are in love or when you orgasm. Oxytocin isn’t a big fan of loud noises and bright lights (unless maybe you’re an exhibitionist).
  • Music – again it’s about setting mood. It doesn’t have to be plinky plonky chill out stuff. I had my iPod on shuffle when labouring with the boy. It had a mixture of chilled out acoustic tracks and some high energy stuff. As it happened, he was born to Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger by Daft Punk.
  • Glucose tablets/honey/flapjacks etc. It’s a good idea to eat when in labour, especially if labour is long. I wouldn’t recommend sitting down to a 3 course meal, but something that is high in energy (not high in fat necessarily, so maybe lay off the dairy), and energy dense, is a good idea for when you need a pick me up.
  • I guess this is essential – some nice snacks for your midwives. They deserve a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The Dull Practicalities.

Finally there are a couple of things that you need to consider.

  • What are you going to wear? I find the £50 Bamboo Birthing Shirts sold by the NCT a bit ridiculous, BUT remember that the first pics of you and your baby will include your labour sartorial choices. Layers is good, at times you will be roasting hot, at times you will be freezing cold. You want something that can easily accommodate access to your business end and to the boobage for those first precious moments of skin to skin/first breastfeeding. It’s helpful to double up on these choices too, because your waters or vomiting or any other myriad of effluvia may conspire to cause a costume change.
  • If you plan to birth in water, a tankini top if always good. You don’t have to have acres of flesh on show.
  • What do you plan to wear after the birth? You need a change of clothes, socks, enormous belly-warming knickers, nursing bras, nursing pads and maternity pads. May I also HIGHLY recommend getting a bottle of witch hazel. Pour some over maternity pads before putting them on. They are amazingly soothing, and mildly antiseptic too.
  • A receiving blanket for baby. Okay let me just amend that to a receiving towel. One of the snuggle robe type ones with the little hood is good.
  • What will baby wear? – I have a few recommendations on these front as well. Little baby body suit type vests with the pop fasteners at the bottom are great, but NOT for a newborn. I prefer a waist length, side fastening vest. The reason being? It won’t press against their umbilicus. Once that falls off standard vests are great. Baby will also need socks (good idea to put several pairs of these on an hour or two before they do they heel prick), a baby-gro/sleep suit, scratch mitts and a hat. Especially a hat. They aren’t great at regulating their temperature early on, though a bit of skin-to-skin kangeroo care does wonders for that.
  • For when the sh*t hits the fan – you need nappies, nappy sacks and cotton wool. Pure water is more than ample at cleaning a baby’s bottom (stay away from the wipes for a while), but it will take a small mountain of cotton wool to get that sticky poop off.

It’s a good idea to have this stuff packed up like a regular hospital bag. It means that it’s all in one place, and should you need to transfer for any reason, it’s easy to grab and take with you.

So there’s my guide to home birthing essentials. Happy shopping.


3 thoughts on “What do you need for a home birth?”

  1. Great list. You mentioned the key things that helped me through my home birth. A ton of towels were really useful, especially for the following days, and honey was almost a neccesity during the pushing phase. My midwife had recommended making frozen whitch hazel and comfrey pads in preparation for the birth, and they deffinitly helped with soreness and healing.

  2. What a brilliant list. I am of the anti-list brigage with a borderline personality disorder in the way I dislike them so much – LOL! – but having said that, I don’t use them as I really can keep stuff in my head, which is exactly where your virtual list now lives!I’m due in June and am planning a home waterbirth, using hypnobirthing. Surrey, where I live, has a few great teachers, and having done the course I’m feeling really confident about it all.
    Good luck!!!

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