We’ve made this trip several times. With the benefit of our experience and that of other moms and partners, we’ve produced this hospital bag checklist to guide you through exactly what to pack in your bag, your baby bag and your partner’s bag!
Pregnancy is a long long wait for one day to come. One of the biggest days of your life. Labor day! (no, not the 3rd of September :)), the day you give birth. Well, it might be the 3rd of September, but anyway….
My point is that there’s a LOT of biological preparation goes into that day. All the more reason you should be well prepped too.
Table of Contents
When should I pack my hospital bag?
When you get 37 weeks pregnant this is called ‘early term’. You’re more likely to reach 39 or 40 weeks for a ‘full term’ birth. However, after 37 weeks there’s a chance labor could start at any time.
Our advice? Get yours and your baby’s hospital bags prepped ASAP after your 36th week of pregnancy.
When labor starts, you really aren’t going to be wanting to pack a bag for the hospital. You’ll be waiting for your next contraction. Wondering whether it’s time to get on your way. Wondering if this is the real thing or just more Braxton Hicks. You’ll want to be ready to go. Not trying to get your partner to find the right nursing bra out of the closet.
Even if you don’t actually pack yet, get started. Lay some things out. Make a list like this one. There are going to be decisions you might not have made yet that you need to make. Some things you need to shop for.
Our checklists will get you there with ‘what’ to take. Just how much of it depends on how long you end up staying in the hospital.
How long can you be in labor?
People can talk about labor lasting several days, but there’s sometimes a period of practice contractions that can precede active labor which is where these stories come from. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions.
Somewhere around 8 hours is typical. Generally, you’ll find labor of the first birth to be the longest. For your second or third child, things just get quicker! The body knows what to do second time through. Our first birth was 11 active labor hours and the second only 4.
How long do you have to stay in the hospital after having a baby anyway?
You should plan for being in the hospital for up to 48 hours after a natural birth. If a c-section is involved you may end up staying as long as 4 days. Any other complications will mean a longer stay.
For both of our births (not counting labor), we were released about 8 hours after the babies were born. The births were uncomplicated, and the pain relief was simply gas and air.
That’s laughing gas to those of you in the US. Whilst use is sometimes an option it isn’t widely available there, however, it’s standard in the UK. The 8 hours was really just how long it took for my wife to have a little rest and the various specialists to come and perform their checks. That’s pretty quick, but not unusual.
Maternity departments can get busy, they sometimes have pressure to free up beds. Whilst it’s the most important day of your life, you aren’t alone. Someone else will be along soon with exactly the same predicament!
About The Bags / Lists
We’ve broken this down into the things we think you need for each person. That means you’ll have a bag for mummy with everything she needs. One for baby and maybe one for your partner.
We’ve also reproduced this entire list for you as a spreadsheet AND a google doc so you can take a copy, print it out, export to pdf, copy into your favorite TODO list app (we love Google keep and use it a lot in our household). Basically, there should be a way to get this list easily onto whatever flavor of technology (or paper) suits you. Here are the links….
So, let’s get to it….
Mummy’s Hospital Bag
There’s no telling when or where labor might start. This is the bag you’ll want to take with you everywhere you go or at least keep somewhere very handy.
We actually had a small suitcase packed for the day with everything for mum in it. We like to be well prepared and everything just didn’t fit in a shoulder bag.
I’m convinced the maternity department nurses gave it a questioning look. But I mean we were prepared for whatever came. You (or they) just don’t know how long you’ll be there. You might need an emergency C-section. A well-packed bag with all your creature comforts is worth its weight in gold on delivery day.
Your Documents & Paperwork
Do you have a birth plan? Don’t forget to take it, the nurse or midwife will want to read it and follow it, and you might not be in a position to clearly discuss what you want. That’s why it’s written down.
Don’t forget to gather your hospital notes and any other hospital paperwork you need. In the UK there’s a handy ‘red book’ that every pregnant mum is given. This is a place for all your pregnancy and early years notes.
In the USA you’ll also need to remember to take picture ID with you (a driver’s license for example), your insurance card.
Not all vending machines a) work and b) take credit cards. You might need cash and coins for these and also for any parking charges you might incur.
Mobile phone and charger
Without doubt one of the most important items you’ll take! Everybody wants that first picture and that first text where you welcome your little on the world and tell everyone what you decided to name them.
A useful little tip here is to install a Contraction timer app on your smartphone if you have one. It’s much easier to use an app than to try and rely on the stopwatch and your memory to figure out if your contractions are getting closer together.
Good quality matters here, you don’t want plastic backed pads. You want pads with plenty of depth and padding (more than you’d usually choose if you’re on your period).
If your waters break early you’re going to get through a lot of these during labor and also afterward. So again, pack a box full.
Ideal for throwing away every time you change your pads. If you use these you won’t have to bring home a pile of dirty washing that you really won’t want to bother with when your little one has arrived.
If you don’t want to take paper pants, then take several pairs of comfortable cotton underwear that you’re happy to throw away!
Nightie for labor
I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on this. It’s likely going to be ruined and end up in the bin.
Socks for labor
Some people get the chills during labor. You might get cold feet (literally, not figuratively) so packing a pair of socks is a good idea. Again, these might get ruined, so we don’t suggest you take your faves!
Towel – bath towel and hand towel
The post labor shower is probably the most needed shower you will ever take. The hospital might provide towels, but it’s not a certainty. You’ve also no idea good a nice towel is going to feel at this point. Be warned though, it might also get ruined.
Slippers or Flip-Flops
Flip-flops are more versatile than slippers because you can shower in them and they won’t get ruined. But you’ll need something comfortable to make your way around the hospital.
Comfortable clothes for coming home (including more socks)
Whilst your bump goes down, it doesn’t disappear. Not for some weeks. So don’t think you’re going to be straight back into your skinny jeans. In the summer you’ll likely want a maxi dress and flip-flops. For winter deliveries, loose-fitting trousers.
If you’re planning to breastfeed…
Ideally, you need 2 types. Ones that are soft and comfortable for sleeping (jersey fabric). For the day you’ll probably want something with a bit more support.
You hardly need the extra cup size provided by padding and underwriting when you’ve got milk boobs.
You’ll change these often if you’re feeding, so you need lots. It’s probably worth sticking a whole pack in your bag.
IF you’re breastfeeding you’ll want to use this regularly to avoid soreness, dryness and cracking. In the beginning, your baby will be feeding round the clock and you may get sore if you don’t take care. So this is important.
Feeding nightie / Nursing
Post labor a comfortable nightdress that you can easily feed in (if you’re planning to nurse). You can buy special feeding nighties that easily pull down so you can feed without removing them. You’ll be doing it a lot, newborns feed what feels like ‘all the time’.
You’re not going to want your hair in your face. You’re also going to be laid back with your head on a pillow, during labor and feeding and just snuggling after the event. You need something that won’t dig in, so forget clips or grips. Stick with a simple bobble or band.
Lots of puffing and panting, gas and air and the overall exertion of giving birth will dehydrate you. Include some of your favorite lip balms, it’s at least one little bit of pampering you’ll be able to do to yourself over the next few weeks.
Face Wash / Body Wash
Something refreshing, that you like. That makes you feel like yourself. You’ll want to wash in the morning and certainly shower after the labor. Any free soaps and shampoos in hospitals just aren’t going to cut it.
You’re going to shower after the big event. You’ll want to wash your hair, and you’ll need to brush it afterward.
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Depending on the time of day and type of delivery you’ll likely be in hospital overnight. Don’t forget your toothbrush (and toothpaste)!
Makeup and Moisturizer
You’ll want to look as best you can when you get to come home. You’re likely to see most of your immediate family within a very short period of time after getting there. They might even be waiting outside the delivery suite.
Shampoo / conditioner 2in1
You don’t want to mess about in the shower at the hospital for too long. This really is one of those times to travel light and just go with a 2in1.
Snacks and Drinks – Energy
An easy quick source of energy when you’re in labor and have zero appetite. You probably won’t feel like eating, and these dissolve on the tongue and can jack up your dextrose levels when you’re exhausted. Giving birth isn’t an easy ride.
Energy drinks (Sports cap)
Another source of energy for the long haul. If you can’t get dextrose tablets, think about taking along your favorite sports drink.
You’re likely going to be drinking from a reclined position, and you might have shaky hands so a bottle with a sports cap is useful.
Bottled water (Sports cap)
It’s exhausting work giving birth. The first time is the hardest. You’re going to get thirsty! There probably isn’t a hospital in the world that will refuse you water. Still, we took our own, and made sure again to get bottles with sports caps so they could be used standing, bending, reclining or on the run!
Snacks for during or after labor
You might not feel like eating during labor (your partner or husband might, but that’s covered later). However, if there’s a break in proceedings for whatever reason and certainly for afterward, you’ll want something to eat.
Hospital vending machines are great, and the food on offer in the cafes has improved over the years and will continue to get better. But… pack something you like because… well, you deserve it!
Snacks for your husband (or partner)
My husband wasn’t allowed to leave my side the whole time for the first time I was in labor. You never know what feelings and emotions will take hold. You may have them stuck in a room with you for a long time whilst you deliver. They’re going to get hungry and you’ll not regret having something to keep their energy levels up in your bag too!
You might want to consider
No, not a hospital book, or a book about babies. This is the pretty book where you keep notes of what happened when. The first smile, first word, a letter to your little one. It’s a great gift for their later life and something they’ll be very interested in if they ever become parents themselves.
You might want to write down some of the things that happened in the hospital. Some of the crazed panic that took hold before you got there. Some of these things can easily be forgotten and forever lost in the maelstrom that is the adjustment to early stage parenthood. So taking the baby book to write them down won’t hurt.
A TENS machine for maternity or birth consists of a hand-held, battery-powered controller connected by leads to four pads. You can place these pads on your lower back and some women find the electrical stimulation helps relieve pain.
Cool water spritz
For the hot months and hot countries, a little spray of something cool on your face can revitalize.
Earphones and a Relaxing playlist!
Load your phone or iPod up (if it isn’t already) with your favorite relaxing playlist and don’t forget your earbuds.
Magazines / books / kindle – Entertainment!
Whilst labor is intense and exhausting, when it’s done you’re usually going to have to spend time in the hospital whilst both you and the little one are checked over. Your baby will sleep and your partner might have also gone to get some rest. So take something to keep you entertained.
Dressing gown or robe
Hospital robes are all well and good but they’re no replacement for something you own that’s comfortable and soft.
Bathing Suit – Bikini
If you’re planning a water birth or even just use of the birthing pool for relaxation leading up to the birth you’ll want something to wear. Certainly, the top half of a bikini will come in useful if you don’t want to get completely naked in front of the hospital staff.
Coming home gifts from baby to their brother or sister(s)
If this is child number 2 or 3 or more then don’t forget to put something in your case to give your older sibling. It’s a good idea to call this a ‘present from the baby’.
A baby brings a lot of change to a household and other siblings can be sensitive to this so start things out on the right foot.
Plastic Bag for dirty washing
Self-explanatory, you won’t want to mix your dirty birthing clothes with your fresh laundry!
Baby’s Hospital Bag
Whilst hospitals might supply them, they might not supply your preferred brand. Best to start off as you mean to go on and take in enough nappies to get you through a day or two. This also means you have them to hand rather than having to find or ask hospital staff to get you any.
For the first few weeks of life, the absolute best thing you can use to care for and clean your newborn is lukewarm water and cotton wool. A packet of cotton wool squares works great for this. You’ll find them in the baby aisle at any superstore.
Small bowl for water
When you’re wiping baby with cotton wool, you want to soak it in lukewarm water first. Having a little bowl handy next to where you’re working making this so much easier than trying to wet a bunch of cotton or go back and forth to the sink.
They’re an essential part of any baby bag. Hospital or not. Slightly scented and ideal for putting the used cotton pads, nappy and any other waste into before you carry it off to the bin.
Babies spit up and are often a little bit sick, milk gets everywhere (from bottle or breast) and a muslin square is a handy time-tested and a very useful piece of material to always have on hand!
If you use them, as you journey through parenthood you’ll find them living in lots of rooms in your house and even the car.
You want your baby to get used to the right thing from the start.
Sleepsuits that open out (not over the head) x 3
Newborns are so delicate, you don’t want to mess them about. It’s much much more convenient to get sleepsuits that you can lay them onto, then button around them. Certainly for the very early stages.
We’d suggest taking 3, there are all sorts of reasons you may need to change the suit.
Vests (if winter)
If it’s cold when they’re coming home you might want an extra layer for them to wear. A vest and then a sleepsuit over the top.
For the trip through the hospital and the trip home a soft cotton blanket it invaluable. Putting a blanket over your little one is much easier than changing an outfit if it gets cold.
Homecoming Outfit (All-in-one and a Cardigan)
You might have family waiting to meet the new arrival at home. They might be waiting in the hospital. Either way, they’re probably going to want to take some pictures! It’s always nice to dress your little one in a special outfit for their homecoming trip.
This outfit also makes a great keepsake for the keepsake box.
We’d suggest an all-in-one homecoming outfit. But you need to be wary that your baby might be buried by it. Ours was. Some newborn sizing can be way off. So have a backup coat or cardigan you can put over a nice sleepsuit just in case.
Babies are born with fingernails and if they’re overdue they’ll have some nice little claws 🙂 Most sleepsuits have little folding sleeves that stop baby fingernails from finder their way into baby eyes. If you’ve chosen a nice homecoming outfit that doesn’t have these then you ought to pack a little pair of scratch mitts. Devilish to fit, and difficult to keep on, but babies don’t know how easily they can hurt themselves with their own fingers.
It’s the law almost everywhere, newborns must ride in a rear-facing car seat. Some hospitals won’t let you leave in a car until they’ve checked you’ve got the right seat fitted.
Get a seat. Get used to how you fit it before you need to use it. Crying babies and often soothed as soon as a car starts to move. They don’t usually like the strapping in and fussing around with seat belts and seat mechanisms bit very much. Not a lot of patience on offer when you’re 0 days old 🙂
A car seat base fitted in the car
A car seat base that stays in the car permanently is a good idea. It makes attaching the car seat a breeze, they usually just clip on in seconds. If you don’t get one of these you’re normally going to have to use the seatbelt to secure the seat. Still easy once you know how, but it does take a little longer.
Baby Socks and Hat
If your sleepsuits or homecoming outfit don’t have feet, and you live somewhere it might be breezy or cold. Consider packing a little pair of baby socks and even a hat (these can really make them look cute).
This will become a regular in your day to day baby bag. It can’t hurt to get some ahead of time and pack it for the hospital. Chances are you won’t need it as you won’t be there for long enough, but if you end up being in for over a week, then you won’t regret it.
Your chosen formula (if you aren’t or can’t breastfeed)
If you’re not breastfeeding or are combination feeding (bottle and breast) you’ll want to take some of your chosen formula to the hospital with you. They’ll no doubt supply you with baby food, but the chances of them having your preferred brand are pretty slim.
Daddy’s (or Partner’s) Hospital Bag
Nowadays it’s your camera and your access to the world. You’ll more than likely be responsible for letting everyone know what’s going on as your partner might want to rest.
Handy hint: Install a Contraction timer app on your smartphone and learn to use it before the day comes. It’s much simpler to use one of these then try and rely on a stopwatch and memory over the course of hours and hours of contractions.
Parking fees, vending machines, hospital cafes. Not everything can be paid for with cards or Google Pay. You may also be nowhere near an ATM or be given time to get to one. So just have some cash and change on hand.
Labor can l last for a long time. Days in some cases. Depending on your relationship it might also make you an invaluable part of the process. It’s a big scary thing for a woman to go through, they might not want you to leave at any point.
If you can think about food, you’ll get hungry. Your energy levels matter too. You’re the support crew, so take something to take care of yourself.
We’ve included snacks for Dad or the Partner on the Mummy list, but it’s always advisable to take something along yourself. They might forget, and you might no like what they choose.
A list of things you need to do
Patience, understanding, and sensitivity!
By the bucket load….
If you’re planning a water birth, or even to relax in the birthing pool during the labor your partner is going to have to get naked in the pool in order to give birth. You however might not feel the same way. Don’t forget your swimmers!
A few jobs for Daddy (or your partner) to do on the day:
On the day – Buy the dailies
Tip – buy all the daily newspapers/magazines you can on the day! They’re a great gift for later years and they’ll cost you a fortune then, but next to nothing now.
Stick something on ice
Put some champagne on ice before you leave.
Say it with flowers
Buy a large bouquet of flowers for the person who did all the work 🙂
And that’s it! Please, please let us know if there’s anything you think we missed! This will be a work in progress… 🙂