Packing a bag for spending time away from home on vacation can be stressful enough — and deciding what to pack in your hospital bag for childbirth is on another level. To help you out, today we’ve rounded up a big list of must-haves and would-be-nice-to-haves for labor/delivery/postpartum, based in part on a recent(ish) reader threadjack. Fortunately, most hospitals provide a lot of the supplies and items you’ll need!
Let us know in the comments if we missed something that turned out to be essential for you (or your partner). Also, what kinds of bags did you bring for you and your partner? A big duffle, a suitcase, something else?
First off, here are a few tips to help you decide what to pack in your hospital bag:
1. A few months before your due date, ask the hospital what it will provide for you and your baby. Then you don’t have to worry about those things — unless you feel strongly about using your own items. This would be a good question to ask during your tour of the maternity ward, because the other parents-to-be will be interested as well!
1a. Bring the free stuff home! If there’s, say, a big pile of diapers in your hospital room when you leave for home, take them with you! The hospital expects you to leave with things like this, so go ahead! Other examples are baby wipes, your baby’s hat, and a peri bottle (for a vaginal birth). (This article from The Bump has a list of suggestions.) I mean, you and your insurance company are paying thousands of dollars for you to bring your baby into the world there, so…
2. If you have a doula, ask if she’s planning to bring anything to the hospital for you. For example, my doula brought a birthing ball to our house before we went to the hospital and probably brought it to the hospital too. (I have to say “probably” because a lot of my labor is a blur.) She’ll also have some valuable advice on what to bring in general.
3. You’ll likely stay at the hospital for up to two days for a vaginal birth and up to four days for a C-section, so plan accordingly. If your baby needs a NICU stay before coming home, this article from Today’s Parent explains what to bring and what to skip.
4. To be safe, have your hospital bag packed by your 37th week of pregnancy.
Here’s a note about the items in our “Optional Things to Pack in Your Hospital Bag” list below — the “nice to have but not essential” things for your hospital stay. This will be mostly be a matter of personal preference. For example, I ended up being perfectly happy to wear a hospital gown for labor and for some (maybe all — like I said, blur) of the rest of my hospital stay, but you may feel more comfortable (emotionally and/or physically) in your own pajamas, robe, and so on. (The advantages of the hospital gown were that it was loose — very non-restrictive for labor, and then afterward, I didn’t want anything on my C-section incision! — and made it easy to nurse. Well, “easy.”)
Another example: I also used the hospital-provided nursing pillow — it had a vinyl covering — able to be disinfected, of course — and I used a hospital baby blanket on top.
If you pack a ton of stuff “just in case,” be aware that your reaction postpartum might be, “Why the hell did we bring all this?!”
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What to Pack in Your Hospital Bag
Must-Haves for Your Hospital Bag
Copies of your birth plan: Remember that your painstakingly planned birth plan may go to s*** during labor (as it did in my case). On the other hand, your labor and birth may go exactly as you’d hoped!
Car seat: The hospital staff won’t let you leave unless you have one, of course.
Insurance card & your ID: Give these to your partner to keep track of if you like.
Baby’s going-home outfit: Bring two sizes (newborn & 0–3 mos.) just in case, and make sure the clothes are easy to put on and take off. Pack an extra in case one gets messy. Have a baby blanket on hand if it’ll be cold outside, or even a fleece car seat cover.
Psst: Kat always loved side-snap/kimono-style bodysuits for her infants…
Your going-home outfit: FYI, you’ll definitely still fit into your maternity clothes. My son was born during warm weather, and I think I wore a maternity top; an elastic-waist, midi-length (casual) skirt; and flip flops. I couldn’t even wear regular sandals because my feet/ankles were so swollen. Crocs and Birks would also be good, or Uggs in the colder months.
Phone charging block and/or a long charging cable
Toiletries: Shampoo, body wash, lip balm, toothpaste/toothbrush, lotion, deodorant, your daily prescriptions, hairbrush, etc. Also, if you’re planning on taking lots of mom-and-baby pics and so on, and know you’d feel more yourself with a little makeup, why not? If you feel like packing makeup for the hospital is silly and wouldn’t even think of bringing it, that’s also fine!
Nursing bras: A nursing sleep bra or other seamless bra would be a good choice.
Nail file: Babies often come out with vampire nails, and a file is safer than nail clippers.
Lanolin nipple cream: For example, Lansinoh
Sleep mask/earplugs: Realistically, these might be most useful if you send your baby to the nursery so that you can have a much-deserved rest at some point. (No need to feel any guilt if you ask that your baby be cared for in the nursery for a bit!) Either way, nurses will be checking your vitals frequently postpartum, so it’s not like you’ll have really long stretches of uninterrupted time to sleep. (Your baby will make sure of that anyway!)
Books, magazines, playing cards: If you’re induced, you’ll probably have hours of time when you’re “comfortable” enough to use these things.
Snacks (granola bars, nuts, etc.): During labor, the doctors and nurses may not allow you to eat or drink anything other than popsicles and ice chips (even though the traditional justifications for NPO may not hold up — and eating may even shorten labor!). So, food from home may end up solely as postpartum snacks. (I have never been as hungry as I was in the couple days after labor! I vividly remember eating TON at the hospital breakfast buffet, which seemed to me like the best food ever. My husband was
Gum, hard candies, mints
Psst: here are some of our favorite comfortable cardigans for nursing or lounging as of 2021…
Optional Things to Pack in Your Hospital Bag
A labor and delivery gown: Here’s an example from Kindred Braverly. Something like that might be perfect for labor, but on the other hand, you may discover that you prefer a hospital gown or even no clothes at all. (I didn’t even buy one.)
“Lounging” clothes/pajamas/robe: Again, you may prefer to simply rely on a hospital gown, but it may be comforting to wear clothes from home.
Bath towel and/or bathrobe: If you’re very particular about towels, you may not be satisfied with hospital-grade ones; otherwise, they’ll probably be fine. Nice towels were very low on my priority list after labor.
Slippers, slipper socks, and/or flip flops: Note that the hospital may provide slipper socks — ask first.
A Bluetooth speaker and/or AirPods/headphones for your (totally optional!) labor playlist: Random data point: I’m pretty sure I made a labor playlist, and if I played it, I certainly don’t remember. Personally, I couldn’t have cared less about music during labor. Other moms love listening to a special playlist during labor, so YMMV!
Notebook, pen, pocket folder: Another option besides taking notes on paper is to use your phone to record nurses’ and doctors’ instructions for home if you’re worried that you’ll forget something important in your sleep-deprived state. Otherwise, make your partner take notes.
Breastfeeding pillow: The hospital may provide one, so ask before you lug yours from home (unless you feel strongly about using your own).
Pumping bra: Bring one in case you have to pump at the hospital.
A packable tote bag: You’ll be bringing more home than you packed, so this can be helpful.
Pillow(s) and blanket: If you’ll be much more comfortable with your own, go ahead, but these are bulky to pack.
Water bottle: Only bring one if you think you’ll really prefer it to the cup and straw the hospital will give you. During labor, you will likely not care. (I remember at one point, ice chips seemed like the best thing I’d ever had in my life.)
Perineal spray: The hospital will provide a peri botte if you have a vaginal birth — to cleanse and soothe your perineal area with water — but special sprays, like this herbal one, are available. (Ask a nurse or doctor before using it.) They’ll also give you ice packs.
Maternity/postpartum underwear: The hospital will provide mesh underwear and giant pads for postpartum, but you can bring your own if you really want.
Dry shampoo, facial cleansing wipes: You’ll probably be dying to take a real shower as soon as you’re able to postpartum, but you might want to have these handy to feel a bit less gross at other times. (On the other hand, you may have zero f***s to give, and that’s fine too!) Here are CorporetteMoms reviews for Batiste and Psssst! dry shampoo.
A note about the items above: Again, a lot of your decisions will depend on your comfort level with using hospital-provided items. Will you feel more comfortable and relaxed if you have things from home, such as your own blanket or clothes? When you’re in the moment, you may care a lot less than you expected.
Things You Probably Don’t Need in Your Hospital Bag
Remember that everything you bring will have to be brought home again and unpacked!
Diapers & wipes
Your baby’s first clothing
Formula & bottles
Things Your Partner Will Need
Since you’re the one in labor, your partner or spouse can take care of this all by themselves and pack their own bag (or add their stuff to yours), thank you very much. Here are some suggestions:
Pajamas/comfy clothes/comfy shoes
A bathing suit: In case they’ll be helping you labor in the tub or shower
Pillow and blanket: If they prefer their own from home. I think my husband slept on a reclining chair/bed type of thing.
Phone charging block and/or a long charging cable
Toiletries, prescriptions, OTC meds
Snacks & cash for vending machine: It’s nice if they don’t eat right in front of you during labor, since you won’t be allowed to eat real food!
Books, magazines: For early labor, especially if you’ll be induced
Readers, do tell! What did you pack in your hospital bag? What did you bring that you didn’t need, and what did you wish you had brought?
Stock photo via Stencil (weekender bag packed and ready to go).