Packing the hospital bag: it’s one of those looming things on your to-do list as you prepare for baby’s arrival. People having their first baby might have their bags packed before the third trimester! And with a second or third baby, I often find parents throwing stuff into suitcases while they are in labor. Whenever you get it done, it’s helpful to have a streamlined list compiled by parents who have lived and learned.
1. Birth Preferences List.
I hear mixed opinions about birth plans. Some fear they are a setup for failure, a list of expectations to be dashed when things go sideways. Others feel they are a necessary way to clarify your choices about things like standard IV fluids or delayed cord clamping. I work with my doula clients on a one-page birth preferences list that is less a plan than a way to think through the risks and benefits of each possible intervention in the birth process. (Check out Penny Simkin’s “win win birth plan” for more on this subject.) Bring your birth preferences on the very top or outside pocket of your hospital bag, because it is the first things the nurses ask for, and will help them with the intake process.
2. Lip Balm.
Hospital air is DRY! Chapped lips in labor can get uncomfortable, as your deep breathing may dry your lips out even more. Definitely keep your favorite lip balm close at hand. Everyone has their own personal choice, but the one I can’t live without is Softlips vanilla.
Every hospital seems to have different policies regarding eating in labor. Many parents assume they will not be allowed to eat once they are admitted in labor. But things are changing to reflect the more up-to-date guidelines from the American Society of Anesthesiologists and ACOG.
The bottom line is that we all feel better when we’re fed. Who climbs a mountain on an empty stomach? Birth can take a long time, and often goes through the night when the cafeteria is closed. Even if you don’t feel like eating in labor, babies like to arrive in the wee hours when people are sleeping and the only thing available is crackers and juice from the hospital’s nourishment room.
Guidelines for snacks: non-perishable, and not to strong-smelling. A few suggestions: trail mix, energy bar, granola, crackers, honey sticks, hard candy, favorite clear beverages such as ginger ale or electrolyte drink.
Okay, it might be cheating for me to call this one item. It’s really more of a category. Here’s the breakdown:
Light bathrobe (for walking halls, and for receiving visitors after baby is here)
Socks with non-slip soles
Sports bra that is easy on/easy off if you’d like to be less exposed in the shower or tub
Mesh laundry bag so you don’t pack soiled stuff with your clean clothes
Dress comfortably, and pack a sweatshirt, as laboring moms may like the room cold. Also pack one change of clothing, because if you assist her in the shower you’re likely to get wet.
If you are choosing to breast feed, a nursing bra and nursing tanks are helpful
Flip flops for the shower
Yoga pants/comfy clothes that fit you when you were 6 months pregnant
Large undies & your own large pads if you prefer those to the diaper-size hospital ones
5. Phones & chargers:
You’ll want to take pictures and to keep all your loved ones in the know. So do make sure you’ve got extra charging cords packed in your hospital bag, and perhaps an extra long one so it can reach from the outlet to your bedside table. But I have seen phones become a huge stressor and frustration for families during labor, when they feel obligated to answer texts and send out regular updates. So consider keeping your phone on silent and letting loved ones know ahead of time that no news means good news and you’ll call them when baby is here.
6. Toiletry bag:
Face cleaning wipes (can feel really good when you want to freshen up but can’t make it to the bathroom)
Your own favorite hair products, body wash, and lotion
For soothing post-baby products, see Earth Mama Organics.
7. Medical bag:
Advil/Excedrin and any other regular medications that your partner may require. Sometimes labor goes for a long time, and sleep and eating schedules are off, which can result in headaches for your partner. Best to have something in your bag for relief, as the hospital can’t provide this.
Stool softener. Often this is prescribed by your care provider, but if not, you don’t want to mess around with the consequences. After birth because of potential stitches and sore places, the first bowel movement can be scary. Eat fiber, drink hot water with a slice of lemon, and take your stool softener, because you don’t need an extra reason to be crying in the bathroom.
8. Baby stuff:
Gentle wet wipes (so helpful for that first meconium.) Yes, the hospital provides diapers & wipes, but some people find they prefer their own
Soft swaddling blanket
Going-home outfit with hat
Baby book if you want footprints on a page
Car seat (get it properly installed weeks before birth)
9. Notebook & pen:
When things quiet down and you are alone in your room, it’s a great idea to journal about the birth while details are still fresh in your mind. Don't forget to write names of nurses who you’d like to write a thank you note for later. Notebook also helpful for jotting down doctor’s instructions that you’ll surely forget otherwise.
10. Breast pump:
If you plan to breastfeed, plan to make use of the hospital in-house lactation consultants. If you have your own pump, it doesn’t hurt to bring it along for some individualized instructions and advice.
For a quick, printable list, click here.