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It’s overwhelming to read lists upon lists of hospital bag checklists. During my first pregnancy, I must have synthesized no fewer than 5 lists from people who seemed to know what they were talking about. The end result was an incredibly long inventory that described and indexed the contents of each small bag that was packed within the SIX large bags I made my husband haul to the hospital. The irony was that being SO prepared backfired because during my hospital stay it was difficult (borderline impossible) to find what I actually needed.
My mom was there to help and when she finally unearthed the index she handed it to me and I announced, “my hairbrush is in the silver bag in the black suitcase.” She successfully found the black suitcase and then held up a bag. “Mom, that bag is black with white polka-dots. That’s blue with a paisley pattern. That’s pink. Omg, forget it.”
I was unreasonably upset about this exchange thanks to the pregnancy hormones. It’s funny now, but it was NOT at the time. I found it was literally too exhausting to FIND (yes even with my handy index) what I needed so I used VERY few things. Confession: I wore the same outfit home that I’d arrived in because it was easy to access! I’ll make it easy on everyone this second time around and simplify my hospital bags so that I can find items myself.
Keep in mind that you cannot prepare for every possible scenario. Consider how far the hospital is from your home and a store; you’re not going to be on a desert island. Someone can probably grab something for you, if you truly need it. I wish this thought had occurred to me when I was packing my hospital bag the first time!
For my second pregnancy, I’ve created a “Hospital Bag Checklist” to think through what will likely be needed, not needed, and what I forgot to consider the first time. (There’s a free printable for you at the end of this post!) I think this same process can help you find what essentials are important to you, since we’re all a bit different in what we need. At the end, you should have the perfect (short!) list that requires only one to two bags of essentials. Note: A small suitcase is recommended as opposed to a shoulder bag, as it’s easier to pull a bag than carry it. Additionally, it’s easier to access items when you can open a suitcase as opposed to digging down through a bag.
3 Essential Documents
- State identification card
- Health insurance card (even if you’ve pre-registered you may need it)
- Birth preferences (if applicable)
8 Laboring Essentials
- Walking shoes! There is a good chance you’ll be doing a lot of walking. After my water broke during my first pregnancy I slipped on some clogs as I waddled out the door to the hospital. I’m still baffled that it didn’t occur to me that I might be walking a lot in early labor, since I’d read about it practically everywhere. (Bonus Tip: If you want to save space in your bag, wear your shoes TO the hospital.)
- Hair ties. I can’t imagine the hell it would be to have a mess of hair strangling me during labor! My hair was the most tangled it has ever been after I had our son. All that rocking back-and-forth while I was lying on my side in the hospital bed made for a rat’s nest. Perhaps dreadlocks would have been my new permanent hairstyle, had I not at least started with my hair in a ponytail. I’m thinking braids might be a good option for this next round.
- Brand NEW Chapstick. Heck, maybe even a couple tubes in case one somehow gets lost. Few things are as uncomfortable and annoying as chapped lips. Hospitals have particularly dry air when combined with the heavy breathing of labor; chapped lips are inevitable. The last think you’d want would be to either not have chapstick or run out!
- Loose Sports Bra. You want to be as comfortable as possible. You don’t need any unnecessary straps or underwire digging into you.
- Tissue. The hospital tissue is TERRIBLE. Though I didn’t experience any vomiting during my first labor, I imagine soft tissues would be tremendously comforting and helpful in that scenario.
- Laboring Equipment. Consider any tools that you plan to use to help manage labor pain. Be sure to tour the hospital Women’s Center and ask about what supplies they have on hand that would be available to you, to save you from hauling them in yourself. I had read that using a breast pump can help induce labor naturally and we hauled it to the hospital only to later discover the hospital had an even better pump on hand that we could have used.
- Birth affirmations?
- Speakers for music?
- Hypnobirthing tracks?
- Essential oils?
- Yoga ball?
- Tennis balls for a massage?
- Massage oil?
- Phone Charger with an extra LONG cord. You never know how far away the outlet will be. If you’re using your phone as your camera to capture some of those early laboring moments, a dead phone battery is simply unacceptable, and so is leaving it on the charger across the room. It’s also possible that labor could stall and you might need some entertainment handy.
- Pen and Paper. Your mind will be mush and there are things that you may want to remember. Of course, writing during labor is probably not an option, but asking someone who will be attending your birth to make notes for you is a good idea. You never know what thoughts and ideas could come to mind during such a unique experience. Maybe you even want your husband to write something down to remind him to remind you. I wanted to keep track of the names of staff who were incredibly helpful so that I could thank them later. If I had a bad experience I wanted to be sure I was able to give details on that, also, because if I had to suffer I wanted to be sure I could at least help prevent someone else from having the same bad experience.
Items to Consider for Laboring
- Water bottle. Again, the hospital provides a water bottle, but if you have a strong preference, certainly bring the one you like.
5 Essentials for Mama Postpartum
- Long Button-down Pajama Top or Short Robe. I wanted to do skin-to-skin the entire time we were in the hospital and it was easy enough to flip the hospital gown around so that the opening was in the front, but it would have been nice to have something soft and cozy around my shoulders. Since there’s a substantial amount of continuous leakage after giving birth, you likely won’t want to soil pants or shorts. However, it’s nice to have a long top that you can pull up when you’re in bed, but one that also provides some coverage when you stand up. Unless of course you’d find it entertaining to display your glorious mesh panties to other people in the room. Note: Dark colors recommended!
- Comfy bra. We did a lot of skin-to-skin and I didn’t want any barrier between me and my baby, but when your milk comes in it can be incredibly uncomfortable to not have some level of support, even if you’re mostly in bed.
- Toiletry bag complete with the following:
- Shampoo & Conditioner. Laboring can be the equivalent of running a marathon. Even if you don’t expect visitors at the hospital you WILL want a shower. Having a baby is much messier than you ever would have guessed, in a myriad of ways. I thought that the most amazing shower possible was after I’d been camping in the wilderness for a week. That pales in comparison to the incredible sensation of a shower after giving birth.
remover. There’s a chance you made it to the hospital with make-up on and its often incredibly difficult to get off without make-up remover. I’m not advocating that you have to look amazing in the hospital, but it would be nice to at least not have blacked-out eyes 😛
- Body wash.
- Dry shampoo. It is possible you simply won’t have the energy for a shower, and a few sprays of dry shampoo could at least help you to feel human again.
- Brush/comb. I couldn’t BELIEVE how tangled my hair was after labor. If I hadn’t had a hairbrush I most certainly would have sported a new look of dreadlocks on the way home.
- Toothbrush & flossers.
- Going Home Outfit. An option that is loose fitting and could fit when you were 6 months pregnant is a safe bet. Sadly your body won’t shrink as instantly as one might expect, even though the baby and oh-so-much fluid have vacated. If the birth is via C-section, consider where the incision would be and ensure the seam of your clothing won’t be rubbing there. Climate permitting, a maxi dress would be a fantastic option. Otherwise stretchy pants and a loose-fitting shirt will suffice. Dark colors are always a good idea, should any unexpected leaking occur.
- Extra Bag. It’s likely you’ll be heading home with more than what you brought to the hospital and it’s nice to have a way to pack it home. The hospital will probably give you some extra supplies, like mesh panties, pads, diapers, wipes etc., and you PAID for them, so you may as well bring them home. Family and friends may have visited and brought small gifts and you need a way to bring them home, as well. A collapsible bag is the perfect item to have in your hospital bag!
Items to Consider for Mama Post Partum
- Facial Cleanser or Wipes. I found water and a washcloth at the hospital to be sufficient, but some people have sensitive skin and require specific products to feel human.
- Hair-dryer, straightener, hairspray
etc. Maybe a compromise can be struck with a mini-straightener. Personally, I was 100% okay with putting my air-dried hair in a ponytail for the ride home. I understand others are much more dedicated to their hair routine than I am.
- Flip-Flops. I feel pretty strongly about flip-flops for the shower at the pool, but hospitals use strong cleaners, so I was comfortable without them. I could understand someone wanting them though!
- Belly band. If you have a particular one that you would like to try then bring it, otherwise they are frequently provided by the hospital. I liked that this one was
confortableand enabled me to wear parts of it or the whole thing if I wanted to.
- Prenatal vitamins. Not a bad idea, if you think you’ll actually remember to take them. Since New Mom Brain has proven to be just as intelligent as Pregnancy Brain, I know that I will not remember them.
- Probiotics. This can be especially important if you have a c-section.
- Nursing Tank-Top. I was basically topless with a diapered baby on my chest and we were covered with a cozy blanket the entire time we were in the hospital. Some other mamas may be more comfortable at least having a tank-top on, so a nursing tank top could be a good option. For us, breastfeeding was extremely challenging at first, so adding a layer of material between us to wrangle out of the way in addition to the other required acrobatics was not appealing. We had a few visitors at the hospital, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t offer to let people hold our new baby because I didn’t want to manage the logistics. The hormones kicked in and I couldn’t set my baby down; my poor husband barely got to hold him!
- Nipple cream. We ended up needing to use a nipple shield for 2 months and initially I was disappointed. The shield was a pain in the butt, but you know what? It created a fantastic barrier so I never had a cracked or bleeding nipple and didn’t touch the 7 bottles of nipple cream I’d received at my baby shower! This was considered a MUST by many of my friends, but I ended up not needing it at all.
5 Essentials for Baby
- Going home outfit. Consider bringing one newborn size outfit and one 0-3 month size outfit. Some newborn babies never fit in the newborn size!
- Car seat. The hospital literally won’t let you take your baby home, thus confirming all of your fears about being told you’re an unfit
parent,if you don’t bring the car seat to the hospital AND check that it has not expired. Yes, apparently they expire, to ensure the car seat industry business model, I guess 😛
- My Breast Friend. It can be very difficult to find and maintain a good position for breastfeeding, especially with flat hospital pillows. This firm foam pillow is tremendously helpful.
- Swaddling blanket. This is nice to tuck over
babywhile doing skin-to-skin. It’s also handy to tuck over babyin the car seat, depending on weatherof course.
- Pacifier. Sucking can be incredibly soothing for newborns. I was terrified that my son would get addicted and the habit would be impossible to break until he was 10 years old, so I attempted to abstain from using a pacifier at all. I later learned that babies don’t have object permanence until around 6 months; this means until then if the baby doesn’t see it, he won’t remember that it exists. I’ve also heard good arguments about how you can take a pacifier away, but you can’t remove thumbs, so a pacifier may be the lesser of two evils. This small item easily fits in the hospital bag, so why not bring it!
Items to Consider for Baby
- Sibling Gift. If this isn’t baby #1 and an older sibling is young, consider helping your new baby get in big brother/sister’s good graces with a small gift, such as a stuffed animal or
wubbanub. We got this small cat for Leo when Pearl was born because he loved kitties!
- Newborn diapers. My hospital only supplied size 1 diapers and my son was 6 pounds 9 ounces, so they were giant on him. The size 1 diapers technically did work, but a better fit would have been nice.
- The hospital likely provides a swaddle and/or blanket, but if you have a cute one that you would like to use, especially for those first photos, definitely bring it!
- The hospital provides a hat, but if you’d like a cute hat/headband bring it!
- Multiple Baby Outfits. If you plan to dress your baby while you’re in the hospital, you’ll need more than just the going home outfit. We did a lot of skin-to-skin and swaddling so my son was in a diaper up until we left the hospital.
- Kangaroo care shirt. This is handy for
skin-to skin, but not essential. We loved how well we were able to snuggle in it 🙂
- DSLR Camera. If you expect you’ll be highly motivated to use it or there’s someone else who can take photos, then bring it! I didn’t have the energy or brain cells to operate anything beyond a point and shoot camera. The DSLR stayed in the bag and I used my cell phone camera. On that note, consider upgrading your phone to one with a quality camera if better photos are important to you.
- Diaper Bag. It’s nice to have the diaper bag all set up for when the baby arrives, but you don’t need it at the hospital. If you’d like to have it, consider bringing it. The hospital likely provides diapers and wipes, but it’s worth checking on.
8 Essentials for Daddy
- Set of Clothes, Including a Sweater
- Phone Charger
- Change for Vending Machine
NOTE: If there are any items that will be used up until you go to the hospital, make sure to make a list of them and set it on top of your bag. That way you know exactly what still remains to be added, and someone else can grab them for you, if necessary.
I hope this information helps you to visualize the process of a hospital birth and how you can best pack your hospital bag to have exactly what you need. If you’re not fully confident in your bag, consider having a pile of “maybe” items at home and if you desperately need something that you didn’t bring to the hospital, a good friend can swing home and bring it to you. I’ll have a lot less stuff and a lot more confidence in my hospital bag this time!
What has your experience been; are there any other items that you would list as essentials?