As the countdown to labor begins, what to pack in your hospital bag can start to consume your thoughts. You don’t want to forget anything that will make the experience easier – but there’s not much space on a hospital ward, so you don’t want to over-pack either.
The ‘normal’ range for a full-term birth is 37 – 42 weeks, so it’s a good idea to nail your plans and have that bag packed and ready from about 36 weeks.
Handy Packing Hack
Although everyone talks about ‘the hospital bag’, it’s actually much easier if you pack not one, but three separate bags. It might sound like we’re over-complicating things, but bear with us here.
The thing is, there’s lots of stuff you might want to take for labor, which you won’t want or need once your baby arrives. Likewise, all the things you’ve packed for your baby, and for the time you spend in hospital after the birth, will only get in the way in the labor suite. And when you’re trying to get to grips with feeding, changing or bathing your baby for the first time, it’s so much easier if you don’t have to rummage around amongst all your clothes and toiletries to find the diaper rash cream or a tiny sleepsuit.
It can make everything a lot simpler once you’re at the hospital if you have a labor bag (which can go back in the car or home with your birth partner after your baby is born), a personal bag for your post-birth stay, and a baby bag with everything you’ll need for your newborn (both of which can stay in the car until you move to the post-natal ward).
So What Will I Need?
Now for the million-dollar question – what should you pack in each bag? A lot will depend on personal preferences, of course, but here’s a convenient checklist of the basics:
Your Labor Bag
Even if you stay at home for as long as possible before going to the hospital, labor can drag on once you get there. Of course you’ve no idea how it’s going to turn out or how you’ll feel once you’re in the thick of it, so you might not end up using a lot of what you pack. But unless you have a strong preference for minimalist packing, we reckon it’s better to have everything and not need it, than to be kicking yourself for forgetting your heat pack when you’re deep in the throws of labor.
So here are the essentials:
- Your birth plan and notes, to share with your midwife or obstetrician.
- High energy, easy-to-eat snack and drinks for you and your support person. Things like trail mix, muesli bars and energy drinks are ideal.
- Money for the canteen and small change for the hospital vending machines (in case your support person gets starving, or you get a craving for something you didn’t bring). Some people feel far too nauseous to consider eating during labor – but you might really appreciate them afterwards.
- Rice or wheat heat pack. Most hospitals have microwaves you can use, and heat can really help ease contraction pains.
- If you’ve hired a TENS machine to help with labor pains, you’ll probably already be using it by the time you get to hospital. But if you are expecting to be induced, or you go in early for some reason, make sure it’s in the bag. (Oh, and don’t forget to figure out how to use it BEFORE you go into labor – those things are insanely confusing!)
- Your favorite music on an iPod or mp4 player, to listen to before and during birth. The right music can really help you to zone out when things get a bit intense.
- Labor clothes, dressing gown, slippers and socks. Unless you’re planning to spend most of your labor in the shower or a birthing pool, you’ll probably want to pace about a bit. You’ll want loose fitting clothing that gives the midwife easy access. Hospital floors are cold and hard, so slippers are a must. By the way, don’t take anything new or special – things can get messy in there, and you’ll probably end up throwing your labor clothes straight in the bin…
- As labor proceeds you might want to time the length and spacing of your contractions. There are a few free contraction timer Apps you can download, or just an old-fashioned watch and piece of paper will do the trick.
- You might want to consider a birthing aid like a yoga ball, as (believe it or not) certain postures really can help relieve labor pains.
- Depending on how long labor lasts, and how intense the contractions are, you might appreciate some entertainment to distract you. So if you enjoy that sort of thing it can be a good idea to take card or travel-sized board games, crossword or Sudoku books, a book to read (or have read to you) or a few magazines.
- If you’ve got long hair, don’t forget to pack a hair tie to keep it off your face.
- Lip balm, massage oil and moisturizer can keep you more comfortable during labor. Gentle massage can help you relax, while minor irritations like cracked lips from dry hospital air can feel like major deal when you’re in labor.
- Once the baby is born you’ll want to take photos, and to let everyone know, so make sure you pack your phone and its charger.
- Oh, and don’t forget to cater for your support person. If you have a lengthy labor they might appreciate a change of clothes, a pillow and a range of snacks too. And they’ll need swimwear if they’re planning to join you in a birthing pool.
Your Baby Bag
How much you need for your baby will of course depend on how long you stay in hospital. If you’re expecting a C-section birth then you’ll probably be in for at least a week, and you’ll need more of everything. But here are the basics, assuming you’ll be in hospital for one or two nights.
- Baby clothes. One-piece sleepsuits are by far the easiest thing to put newborns in. But it’s extremely hard to judge how big your baby will be, so make sure you take a few sizes. You’ll probably need a few spares too (babies chuck up a lot!)
- A ‘photo opportunity’ outfit. Many hospitals offer professional photography services for newborns. You might want to dress your bub in something super cute for their first photo-shoot – or for those momentous going home pictures.
- Babies are often born with long, scratchy fingernails. A baby suit with built-in mittens is ideal, but if not, a separate set can be useful to protect her delicate face from getting scratched by her flailing hands.
- Diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream. That first dirty diaper can be a bit confronting! If you smear on some diaper cream on before putting on his first diaper it will be a lot easier to get all that sticky meconium off…
- A soft baby blanket to wrap your bundle in, because hospital blankets can be scratchy and hard.
- Cloth squares to protect your clothes – and those of your visitors – while holding your baby. (We may have mentioned that babies chuck up. A lot.)
- If you’re not planning to breastfeed, you’ll need to pack formula and bottles for feeding your baby.
- Obviously you won’t be packing this, but don’t forget that you can’t leave the hospital without a properly fitted child passenger restraint in your car, so do make sure you get that sorted out in advance.
Your Hospital Stay Bag
The final bag is to make you as comfortable as possible after the birth of your baby. Again, you’ll need to pack more if you’re expecting a C-section, and to bear in mind that you won’t be able to bend or twist easily, so you might also need little comfort aids like drinking straws.
But these are the basics you’ll need for any short post-natal stay:
- Old briefs, and lots of maternity pads. Post-birth bleeding can get pretty messy.
- Breast pads, in case you’re still in hospital when your milk comes in.
- A couple of changes of comfortable, soft, warm clothes, including pajamas and nursing tops if you’re planning to breastfeed. And if you want to look fabulous in those going home photos, something nice to wear when you leave the hospital.
- Your favorite toiletries (shampoo, shower gel, moisturizer) for that amazing post-labor shower.
- Earplugs and an eye mask to help you get some sleep (maternity wards can be pretty noisy).
- Your phone and charger so you can keep in touch and post pictures of your new bub on Facebook.
- A book or some magazines to read, just in case you’re not sleeping when your little one is.
- Your favorite pillow (and if you still have one, your favorite soft toy – you don’t have to give it up just because you’re a mom now!) to help you feel at home and get some rest in that strange hospital bed.
Wow. Seems like a lot to think about, right? But having the right stuff with you can make labor and those first few days with your newborn much more comfortable. So get packing… and good luck!