Once you’re done panicking about last-minute home renovations and scrutinizing every last page of your pregnancy books, there is one final frontier of endless deliberation: what to pack in your hospital bag.
In retrospect, some of my initial list was fueled by panic and misconceptions about what the whole hospital experience would be like. So first I’ll briefly run down a list of things you think you need that you probably don’t.
What NOT To Pack In Your Hospital Bag:
- Tons of food: My bag was a squirrel’s hoard of nuts, granola bars, puddings, peanut butter crackers and an apothecary of drinks from teas to Gatorade. “What if they don’t let me eat?” I fretted. Now that I’ve been there and survived it, I can tell you they feed you surprisingly well at the hospital! When you’re pregnant and constantly on Snack Attack, it’s really hard to imagine going three – let alone 12 – hours without eating, but you’ve got a lot of other matters to attend to during labor, and that palace of snacks in your bag is likely to sit there.
- Video camera: This one may come as a shock to you – as it did me, who bought a fancy HD video camera for the expressed purpose of capturing all the precious moments in my new baby’s life. But when I saw my daughter’s tiny face, I just wanted to be cuddling and visiting with her, not striking a pose with my bedraggled bedhead and tired eyes that would never close as soundly again. Most phones take video these days, so that should suffice unless a cinematic keepsake is a vital part of your birth-plan. My parents videotaped the entire harrowing 20-minute cesarean birth of my sister back in the nineties… and they watched it… not once.
- Feminine hygiene products: I knew that blood volume increases by 50 percent during a typical pregnancy. The question of “Where does it all go?” horrified me, so my first trip to the hospital included bags and bags of puffy Kotex. Despite my overactive imagination conjuring up images of the gory final scene in Scar Face, I still had enough vanity to insist on packing fashionable Victoria’s Secret underwear for my stay – none of which left the bag. I just wasn’t feeling it. The hospital gave me a squirt bottle for rinsing down there and a box of Tuck’s pads (which I ended up needing more of once I got home.)
- Diapers: I had Bum Genius diapers for my first baby, so naturally I figured I’d be slipping my baby right into these ultra-comfy, super-economical, and rash-preventative diapers. When I held the reusable diapers next to my newborn, it was like trying to dab a flea with a cottonball. The hospital provided an ample supply of disposable diapers (nothing like the sort YOU were put into as a baby) that were surprisingly soft and absorptive – and had an indicator tab to let me know when the baby had soiled it.
- Reading material: I imagined there would be all this time at the hospital that felt like sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s office, so I brought magazines and my Kindle – which sat untouched in my bag the entire time.
Most Essential Items For Your Hospital Bag:
The hospital was surprisingly generous and supplied me with more than I anticipated. Even so, there are a few items that truly did make my stay a bit more special:
The first time around, I had been so busy thinking about my baby that I completely neglected to think about my own comfort. The second time, I was better prepared. The French Terry Nursing Sleep Bra was soft, seamless and easy to use when I was abruptly snapped out of slumber by the sound of my nurse wheeling my wide-eyed wonder into the room for a late-night snack. Even if you normally sleep bra-less, that life will become a thing of the past once your milk comes in.
During the day, all sorts of visitors will likely be popping in to see you. Wearing the hospital gown made me feel sick and shabby with my first. The French Terry Nursing Tank is super comfy. I loved the racerback and the fact that it flowed looser over my belly – which I had imagined would deflate like a balloon, but in reality subsided down to a still-five-months-pregnant look. Though I gave birth in February and December in snowy New York, the hospital was plenty warm and I liked having bare arms that could rest against my nursing infant’s skin, so the tank was ideal.
While I wouldn’t recommend bringing your favorite pair of underwear to the hospital, the High Waist Postpartum & C-Section Recovery underwear is worth packing. I love functional garments, so the idea that I could comfortably wrap myself up and help shrink my uterus down was a plus. Forget the mental image of yourself rolling into a pair of Spanx for the last wedding you attended. These support undies provide just enough support for weakened abdominal muscles to make you feel loved, but not so much that you’ll be tugging at them all day.
Disposable nursing pads are one of those Draconian torture devices you wouldn’t have thought would survive the 1980s. They stick to YOU more than to your bra and they just feel all-around gross! So one of the first things I hopped on Amazon to buy were the more humane washable nursing pads. After all, I’d be wearing them every day and night of my life for a while, so why wouldn’t I want to be comfortable? I tried all different varieties from Bamboobies to FuzziBunz to Kiddo Care, but what I liked about these particular nursing pads from Kindred Bravely are that they are super soft, yet not bulky. Some of the other pads I tried dimpled and showed through my shirts – but not these! The carrying case is a nice touch for organizing your underwear drawer because I felt like I was always searching for that one elusive rogue nursing pad that had slipped around behind the socks and inside a pair of underwear!
In addition, I would also recommend getting yourself a couple pairs of Hydrogel pads, which are a GODSEND if you wind up with cracked or super sore nipples. (One study found that 96% of women experienced this phenomenon post-partum). “Sore” doesn’t begin to describe the searing pain. Even a soft fabric can feel like a scratchy steel scouring pads when you’re so pins-and-needles tender. The pain can come whether your baby latches properly or not – often due to skin damage, inflammation and hormonal changes. The issue usually peaks around days 3-6 and subsides somewhat within a few weeks. If it continues to trouble you (which it did with my second), don’t feel shy about using a Nipple Shield. Hospitals usually provide them if you ask or you can purchase one. The shield got us through that first tenuous month without the screaming agony, and was surprisingly no big deal to transition off when the time was right.
I actually felt – dare I say, sexy – in the Angelina Nursing Gown. That vixen I was before baby arrived was still in the back of my mind, but it felt so, so good to be able to see my (non-swollen) feet again and shave my legs. Slipping into this gown recaptured that sense of being a WOMAN, rather than a portly baby incubator. It was really soft and flattering – something you could even use as your “going home” outfit (provided that it’s not snowing and 19 degrees outside).
There is no substitute for a few good pairs of pajamas. For a while, I honestly didn’t want to wear anything else! I was sleeping when the baby slept, whenever I could, so it made perfect sense. What’s great about this particular pajamas is that they look nice enough to lounge around in, without feeling like you’re slouching around. I’ve even worn the top with a pair of post-partum jeans and the general public was none the wiser. I bought a couple pairs so I could mix and match tops and bottoms on days where I didn’t feel like being so monochromatic.
I read a lot of books, but few were as practical and useful in the real world as Harvey Karp’s Happiest Baby on the Block. His “5 S” technique for baby soothing really saved me from a world of confusion on what to do when baby cries! One of the secrets of babies (from 0-3 months of age) mentioned in the book is that they LOVE being swaddled. So these soft, adorable blankets from Aden & Anais really came in handy. They had a hospital swaddle we were able to take home, but since you only see your baby in swaddled form for the first few weeks, it’s nice to have a design you enjoy looking at all the time. They also make a thoughtful baby shower gift.
The hospital gave me packets of Medela lanolin, but I didn’t like the stickiness of it. Also, oddly, about 1.7% of the population is allergic to lanolin / wool, which causes eczema and dermatitis-like rashes. I have sensitive skin myself, so I opted to avoid that whole potential nightmare and buy a natural organic nipple cream like Motherlove. You can use the cream as a diaper ointment too! (Earth Mama is another good one that smells like fresh-baked cookies, though you have to use it up in a timely fashion or it tends to congeal.)
Light-Blocking Eye Mask
This is a personal quirk, but I need TOTAL DARKNESS when I sleep. I first discovered the joy of a light-blocking eye mark on a red-eye flight across the country. As an added bonus, this one has an optional cold pack, which will get you through those headachy days.
Even though it was the maternity unit, the thought of hospital floors still ICK-ed me out, so I was glad I thought ahead and brought a pair of slippers for the room and a pair of flip-flops for the shower. Naturally, you’ll want a few pairs of warm, soft socks in your bag, too.
The hospital will supply you with basic items, but unless you want to have dry skin and struggle with a comb, you will probably want to bring your own brush, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, deodorant, and face wash at the very least. I got by with the hospital toothbrush and toothpaste. I wasn’t sure if I’d need my makeup, thinking I’d be too busy to worry about it, but the baby photographer will be coming by for family photos, so you will at least want your makeup for that, if nothing else.
Baby Journal and Baby Tracker
As a writer by trade, I feel compelled to record every important moment in my child’s life. There are many cute journals to choose from. I liked this one. It had just the right combination of prompts and wide open space to let me jot down thoughts as they came to me. The hospital staff provided a few sheets for tracking baby eating and diaper soiling activities, but I felt like I was always running out. It would have been handy to have a baby tracking journal – or the Baby Tracker app if you have a smartphone.
iPod & Headphones
Most of the items listed are helpful to your immediate recovery period. As for the actual act of laboring, nothing was more valuable than my trusty iPod and noise-canceling headphones. My husband was physically there, but I relished being in my own personal zone, using music as a way to get through each round of contractions and keep my energy levels up. I brought a ton of super relaxing music – like Helen Jane Long Porcelain and Deborah Van Dyke Divine Chants.Yet, I found with my first all I wanted to listen to was hardcore like Comeback Kid! With my second, I was a little more relaxed and rocking out to Muse. I still got use out of the relaxation tunes when it came time to quiet my mind and catch some shut-eye. Some people swear by the meditation music, too! You never really know what your individual preference will end up being until you get there. Labor is a very personal journey, with no two experiences exactly alike.
Here’s another essential for the labor itself. While I didn’t eat much, I did have a lust for candy! The sweet treat gave me something to look forward to and focus on amid the chaos. Just visit your local supermarket and stock up on the goods -- Jolly Ranchers, Sweet Tarts, Starburst, Lifesavers, Brach’s, Bali’s Coffee Candy. (Be sure you bring extra for your husband too!)
Also, don’t forget:
- Your phone
- The baby’s car seat
- An outfit for baby’s ride home!
Now you should be super prepared for the road ahead! If it’s any consolation, I worried myself silly over “labor day” and over all that I would need to be ready for whatever happened in the hospital. In retrospect, nothing was scarier than driving home with a newborn baby and seeing the guy in the car next to us TEXTING WHILE DRIVING, eyes off the road! But hey, if anything, this slightly neurotic Boy Scout “always be prepared” thinking will prep you for the many rounds of diaper bag packing and cherished family outings to come.