Everything Pregnancy

What to Pack in an Emergency Birth Kit

You're probably planning to give birth at a hospital or birthing center, but what if you can't make it there on time? Here's what to have on hand.

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We've all read those news stories about a woman who gave birth in an Uber on the way to the hospital and thought: "There's no way that will happen to me!" But what if you do go into labor when you're least expecting to—are you prepared?

You've likely already put a lot of thought into what to put into your hospital bag. Now's a good time to pack an emergency birth kit, too. This will be full of necessities you'll be glad you have if your baby is ready to arrive before you are. "Fortunately, giving birth in an unintended location does not happen very often—less than one percent of deliveries," says Dr. Nita Landry, OBGYN and co-host of The Doctors. But delivery at home or on the road can happen in the case of a fast labor, a bad snowstorm or natural disaster, or even a lot of traffic.

Even if you think you're heading to the hospital with plenty of time to spare, toss your emergency kit into the trunk, just in case. "Some babies will inevitably be born in the car, so these kits are good for those circumstances," Dr. Landry says. Here's what you should include:

A portable cell phone charger: You'll want to make sure your phone has enough power to call 911 or your doctor so a healthcare provider can talk your partner through the delivery process.

Shower curtain and clean sheets: To create a delivery area in your home, cover your mattress with a shower curtain and then cover the shower curtain with a clean sheet, Dr. Landry says. If you're on the floor, have someone help you slide the curtain and sheet under you.

Soap and latex or plastic gloves: It's important for your partner, or whoever's delivering the baby, to have clean hands. You might also want to include an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in case you don't have access to water.

Several dry towels: After the baby is delivered and placed on the mom's bare chest and tummy in skin-to-skin contact, you'll want to use a towel to dry the baby off, Dr. Landry says. Once the baby is cleaned off a bit, you'll use another dry towel to keep him warm.

Bulb syringe: Your partner may need to use it to help clean out baby's airway. "The healthcare provider who is talking you through the birth will let you know if you need to use it after determining if your baby is breathing properly," Dr. Landry says.

Shoelaces and scissors: Although you don't have to cut the cord if help is on the way, if you're cut off without access to services, you can do it yourself. First, boil the shoelaces and the scissors for 20 minutes, or if you can't, wash them with soap and water and soak in alcohol. There's no rush, and you can wait until the cord stops pulsing. "Tie two shoe strings around the umbilical cord, one about three inches from baby's tummy and the other about two inches from the first knot—about five inches from the baby's tummy," Dr. Landry says. Then, "cut between the two shoe strings."

Alcohol and cotton balls: Alcohol is useful for sterilizing in the absence of boiling water (like for your scissors to cut the cord, or even to clean your hands), and you can also clean off the baby's umbilical cord with alcohol on a cotton ball.

Garbage bags: Wait for the placenta to come out on its own. Then, "put the placenta in a garbage bag, and take the placenta to the hospital with you," Dr. Landry says. "When your partner is ready to clean the delivery space, with gloves on, roll up the soiled sheet, curtain and towels, and put them into another bag."

Things for mom: Sanitary pads, clean underwear, a cold pack (the kind you snap to make cold), and pain medicine: After delivery of the placenta, Dr. Landry advises your partner to firmly rub your lower stomach to slow the bleeding. Still, you'll need to wear pads, and a cold pack will help with any discomfort in the vaginal area. Tylenol can also reduce the pain.

Things for baby: Baby blanket, hat, and diapers: Keep the baby warm with a blanket and hat, and don't forget the diapers! Mom should keep holding the baby close as well. "Skin-to-skin contact also keeps baby warm, and helps to regulate their heart, oxygen and respirator oxygen saturation rates," Dr. Landry says. "Also, babies will be calmer and cry less."

For feeding the baby: You don't have to include formula in your kit—even if you weren't planning on breastfeeding, in an emergency situation it has benefits for both mom and baby. "Breastfeeding causes mom to the release a hormone called oxytocin, which aids in uterine contraction and decreases moms blood loss to help prevent postpartum hemorrhage," Dr. Landry says. "This is a huge plus in this setting. Breastfeeding also allows babies to get food, and it's a great way for mom and baby to bond."