If you went into labor and showed up at the birth center or a hospital with nothing, it would not be the end of the world. You would probably have to send your partner out to buy a car seat so you could take your baby home, but otherwise, you would indeed survive. You can pack some things in a bag that will make your labor, birth, and postpartum experience much more comfortable. This article breaks down what you should pack in your hospital or birth center bag for you, your baby, and your partner. Don’t worry about taking notes. You can download a free checklist.
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Don’t Overthink It
Don’t overthink this. To be honest, if you went into labor and showed up at the birth center or a hospital with nothing, it would not be the end of the world. You would probably have to send your partner out to buy a car seat so you could take your baby home, but otherwise, you would indeed survive. You can pack some things in a bag that will make your labor, birth, and postpartum experience more comfortable. My job is to give you the list of necessities. You are welcome to expand on this list and pack more things.
Before You Start Packing
Before packing, you should know how much time you expect to spend in the hospital or birth center. A birth center may send you home the same day your baby is born. A hospital may require you to stay for 24 hours after you have your baby. If you plan a cesarean birth, you will likely be in the hospital for several days. Ask your care provider about specific policies on the length of your stay. Then you will know how many days to pack for and how many of some items you will need.
It is easy to get wrapped up in tasks preparing for your baby. Parkinson’s law is the idea that work expands to fill the time for its completion. If you start packing your birth bag in week 20, you will spend the second half of your pregnancy adding items and overthinking what items you need. Listen to this episode, download the checklist, and add any items to the list that you want to include. Wait for your baby shower to purchase any items you may receive as gifts. To be on the safe side, you should aim to have your bag packed and ready to go by week 37. If you are a super planner, you can do it by week 36. You can always add other items you think you will want as your due date gets closer.
You do not need to go out and buy a new bag. You can use a duffle, an overnight bag, or a suitcase. Even reusable shopping bags or canvas bags would work.
Packing and Organizing
During your hospital or birth center stay, it is likely that your partner or someone else will be looking for things and pulling items out. You want to organize everything so items are easy to find. It could be helpful to have separate bags for you, your partner, and your baby. A diaper bag or backpack is perfect for holding any items for your new baby. You may also consider packing cubes or gallon Ziploc bags to keep things organized. I love the splash-proof bags from Aloha Collection. They are perfect for travel or keeping your diaper bag organized. (Save $20 on your first Aloha purchase.)
Once you pack your bag, make sure your partner knows where it is stored and that it needs to go with you to the hospital or birth center. Your partner should know what you packed and where things are because they will likely be the person retrieving items from your bag.
Even in this age of technology, having a file folder with physical documents is a good idea. This should include a few printed copies of your birth plan, a copy of your health insurance card, and your ID. If you can get any of the registration or admitting paperwork ahead of time from the hospital or birth center to fill out, do it. The last thing you want to do while in labor is fill out paperwork, or have your partner fill out paperwork. It is also good to have a printout of any important contact phone numbers. This should include the hospital or birth center, your doctor or midwife, your doula, and your pediatrician. You should include any people you may need to notify or coordinate with, like someone to pick up your placenta to encapsulate it, a photographer, or key family members or friends.
Your phone can take care of many items on your list. Here are some ways you can use your phone to simplify things and what you and your partner should download or save on your phones.
Download an app to time contractions. Test the app and ensure you both know how to use it ahead of time.
Remember that contact list we talked about including in your documents? Input all the contact numbers in your phone and your partner’s phone.
Sound can dramatically change your environment. You may consider downloading an app that plays soundscapes, sleep music, or white noise. My favorite app for this is Endel. (Try it FREE for 14 days.) This app uses sounds backed by science to help you relax, focus, and sleep. Hospitals can be very noisy, and soundscapes or white noise may help you and your baby sleep better.
If you plan to listen to music, ensure you download playlists on your phone in advance so you can access your songs even if you do not have wifi. Pack headphones and consider a backup pair of wired headphones if you use Airpods or other wireless headphones.
Smartphones are amazing, but they only work as long as you can charge them. Pack at least one phone charger and a power bank if you have one. Bonus points if you have an extra-long phone charging cord.
You are surrounded by experts at a hospital or birth center. Use a note-taking app to keep track of any questions that come up during your stay. Take advantage of being face-to-face with doctors, midwives, nurses, and other medical professionals to answer your questions before you go home.
I encourage you to prepare for labor with lots of tools in your toolbox to manage contractions and keep your labor progressing. If there is any tool you plan on using during labor, find out if the hospital or birth center will have it there or if you need to bring it.
Examples could be a birthing ball, massage oil, meditations, and a rebozo (a shawl used in many different ways during labor). If you plan to use any visualization pictures, bring them or save them to your phone. If you plan to use oil on your perineum to help prevent tearing, pack it.
Food and Drinks
For a long time, it was a common rule in hospitals that you could not eat or drink during labor. Hospitals enacted this rule due to the risk of aspiration during general anesthesia. Not only is general anesthesia rare for labor, but the risk of aspiration is nearly zero. Despite this, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that current guidance supports the oral intake of moderate amounts of clear liquids by women in labor who do not have complications. However, particulate-containing fluids and solid food should be avoided. In contrast to most hospitals, women who give birth at a birth center or home are encouraged to eat and drink during labor.
There is an episode that examines your body’s energy and hydration requirements during labor and the evidence to support why you should or should not eat and drink. Plus, if you decide that you want to have food or drinks at your birth, that episode covers the right things to bring and how to navigate restrictive policies. You should ask your doctor or midwife about their policies, or policies of the venue where you plan your birth, relating to eating and drinking during labor.
You should have mints or gum in your bag to freshen your breath. You may be nauseous or vomit during labor, and a mint or gum can be beneficial. This may also be handy for your partner or anyone else with you.
If you pack snacks in your birth bag, avoid foods high in fat or sugar with no nutritional value. You need healthy foods that will fuel your body. Rather than eating one big meal, eating a little bit at a time could be helpful. Many providers recommend carbohydrates because they are easy to digest. Some ideas of foods to pack in your birth bag are:
Banana or fresh fruit
Rice cakes (you can add jam or nut butter)
Oatmeal or cereal
Crackers or graham crackers
Granola bars or protein bars
Any liquid will help you stay hydrated. Drinks could include broth, juice, or tea. Keep in mind that the official recommendation from ACOG is clear fluids. Water is always an excellent choice to stay hydrated. Since labor is physically intense, you may want to consider an isotonic drink. Isotonic drinks are those that contain electrolytes. A few packets of electrolytes in your birth bag is a good idea.
You have access to a lot more food and drinks at home than you may in a hospital or birth center. If you plan a home birth, you may also want to plan for the other people who will be in your home for the birth. Another consideration is that your birth partner needs to eat during your labor. They may not be expending as many calories as you are, but they will be burning energy and need to stay fueled.
Labor can get messy, and any clothes you wear may get stained. Most hospitals will request you put on a gown. Hospital gowns are not always the most comfortable thing to wear. The main feature of a hospital gown is that it is open in the back for access to an epidural. It is an option to buy and bring your own gown, and some expecting moms do choose to do this. Pack a bathing suit top or a sports bra if you plan to utilize hydrotherapy and labor in the shower or a tub. If you are comfortable being topless, that’s okay too.
After you have your baby, you will experience lochia, which is like a heavy period. Any bottoms you wear may get stained. Your priority for clothing after birth is comfortable clothes with easy access for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding. Although your belly will be smaller after birth, you can expect to look still about five months pregnant.
A hospital or birth center will likely provide disposable underwear. After labor, you will be using a thick maxi pad. If you want to purchase underwear for postpartum, the All-In Panty from Bodily is an excellent option. Bodily also has super comfy mesh panties.
You should pack a nursing bra or top that makes breastfeeding convenient. You will spend a lot of time skin-to-skin with your baby, and you can wear a button-up shirt and no bra. A bathrobe can be comfy to cuddle with your baby and cover you up if you want to walk around. Hospitals tend to be on the cold side. Bring a sweater or sweatshirt and warm socks. Comfort is vital when it comes to clothing after birth.
Keep your footwear simple. You should have a pair of sandals or flip-flops that you can wear in the shower. Plus, you may have swelling in your feet and ankles after having a baby. Some moms bring a pair of slippers, although you can expect them to get dirty walking around. You may also want a pair of sneakers and socks, especially if it will be cold when you leave the hospital.
A hospital or birth center should provide basic toiletries. You may want to bring your own if you like specific products. Since you will be skin-to-skin with your baby and breastfeeding, consider avoiding products with fragrance. Keep in mind that your partner may also need toiletries. I would treat this as if you are spending the night at a friend’s house. You want to brush your teeth, wash your face, and feel put together in the morning. You do not need to pack every single product you would use for a two-week vacation or a night on the town.
Maxi pads (a hospital or birth center will provide these)
Medications or prescriptions
Toothbrush and toothpaste
Shampoo and conditioner, body wash, lotion
Any skin care products like face wash and moisturizers
A hairbrush, any haircare products, ties, clips, or headbands
Lip balm and makeup
You want to focus on spending time with your baby, not glamming up for pictures. Keep makeup and other personal care products to a minimum.
What to Pack for Your Baby
You should pack some outfits for your new baby. Choose soft and comfy clothing, like bodysuits or onesies. Skin-to-skin contact is essential. You may want to put your baby in a diaper only and put a blanket over them on your chest. Bring a few pairs of socks if you have outfits that expose your baby’s feet.
The hospital or birth center will have swaddle blankets for you. If you have particular swaddles or a soft blanket you like, pack it. A baby blanket may also be helpful to put on your baby in the car seat if the temperature is cool when you leave to go home. You may want one or two receiving blankets. Remember that anything you bring, you will also have to pack and bring it back home. Plus, more items mean more laundry when you are home.
Many parents preplan a special going-home outfit for their baby. If you are putting your baby in their car seat, driving home, and not planning on seeing anyone, you may want to skip this. I promise your baby will look adorable no matter what they are wearing. Dress your baby in something comfortable. Until now, they have been naked, and clothes may be a little foreign. Keep in mind the weather you live in and the time of year you are due. If it is going to be hot and humid or cold and snowing, you want to dress your baby accordingly for the trip home.
Many new parents put a hat on their baby. Babies born vaginally may have a slightly cone-shaped head after birth from going through the vaginal canal, and a cute hat hides this. If this happens, don’t panic. Your baby’s head will go back to a normal shape.
Some parents put mittens on their babies to prevent them from scratching themselves. Not all parents use mittens. There is an argument that babies are comforted by their hands, and if your baby scratches themselves, it will heal quickly. If you plan to use mittens, pack them.
Hospitals and birth centers will have diapers and wipes. If you have a preferred brand, you can bring your own. If you plan to use cloth diapers, you may want to wait until you get home. Your baby’s initial bowel movements contain meconium, a thick, dark, tar-like poop that will stain cloth diapers. Your baby will not go through many diapers in the first few days, and ten should be plenty for the first 2-3 days.
We already covered nursing-friendly clothing. There are some additional supplies some mothers choose to pack for the birth center or hospital.
You produce colostrum in the first few days, and it generally takes a few days for your milk to come in. Nursing often is one of the best things you can do to help your body produce milk.
You can likely skip packing a breast pump. If you need one, hospitals have them available, although a birth center may not. Some mothers plan to use a breast pump for nipple stimulation during labor, and you can also stimulate your nipples manually.
If you have nursing pads or a nipple balm or cream, include them in your birth bag. If you want to use reusable pads, you may consider disposable nursing pads for your hospital or birth center stay.
A nursing pillow is a must-have for new parents. The only downside is that they can take up quite a bit of space. I would consider packing a nursing pillow like the Boppy Original Nursing Support Pillow or the Best Latch Nursing Support Pillow. The Anywhere Nursing Support Pillow is an excellent option for a compact nursing support pillow. You can always leave it in your car until after your baby is born. (Save 15% off Boppy.com with the promo code PREGPOD15.) A nursing pillow can help position your baby for a good latch and support their weight to save your arms and back.
What to Pack for Your Partner
Your partner needs a bag too, or at the very least, a few items packed in your bag. They may want swimwear if you plan a water birth and want your partner in the tub. Swimwear can also be helpful if you labor in the shower and your partner gets in to support you.
Labor will be a marathon for your partner, and they will want to wear comfortable clothing. Your partner should pack at least one change of clothes or more if you know you will be at the hospital or birth center for more than a day. If you expect an overnight stay, your partner may want a pillow or anything that may help them be more comfortable if they have an opportunity to sleep.
If your partner buys you a push present, they should bring it. A push present is a gift that a partner can buy a new mom for pushing a baby out. Not everyone is into this, and it is optional. If you are expecting a push present, make sure your partner knows.
If You Have Other Children
If you have other children visiting or staying with you, you should bring snacks and something to keep them entertained. This could include games, toys, a tablet, or an iPad with movies pre-downloaded. Some parents also like to have a gift from the older sibling to give the new baby or from the new baby to the older brother or sister.
You may want to include some miscellaneous items in your birth bag. If you or your partner wears glasses or contacts, bring those, and don’t forget a contact lens case and saline solution. Pack your wallet and have some cash on hand for vending machines at the hospital. If you want to bring a camera, include an extra memory card, charger, and other accessories. Phones take excellent photos, so do not feel like you need a camera.
You may consider any items that will make you comfortable. This may include your favorite pillow or blanket. If you bring a pillow, use a colored pillowcase, so the hospital staff knows it is yours. You can take this to another level by bringing a bath towel and framed pictures of your family. Bottom line, pack whatever you need to make your stay more comfortable. There is an episode on your birth environment and things you can do to make a hospital or birth center more comfortable.
Some parents bring goodies for hospital or birth center staff, like baked goods or snacks. You cannot go wrong bringing in goodies for everyone assisting you during your stay.
We could compile an endless list of stuff to pack in your birth bag. You can download the free birth bag checklist. This list has all the necessities and space for you to add items.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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