I remember being about 32 weeks pregnant and all the conversations at work switched from, “How ya feeling?” to “Is your hospital bag packed yet?”.
You really don’t need much to have a baby. Got your uterus? Packed!
However, if you’re having a hospital birth, there are a few things to make your stay a little more pleasant. Here’s the list I came up with to pack in your hospital bag but feel free to let me know what you took, or are taking.
What to pack in your hospital bag for you:
Hospital pillows are about the thickness of a communion wafer – maybe it’s so you can’t smother someone with them to get your inheritance early, dunno – so it’s always nice to have a pillow from home. Not only is more comfortable but your pillow kind of smells like your bed and that’s always comforting. Use a non-white pillowcase so it’s not confused with a hospital pillow that someone could walk off with when you’re in the “loo trying to poo”.
Slides or Crocs:
There’s a good chance you will need to walk around at some point so a lot of folks take slippers. A friend of mine told me to take slides (or crocs) in my hospital bag because you can wear them in the shower and I will be forever grateful because the shower in my hospital looked like a scene out of a Stephen King novel. My feet also swelled beyond the width of a slipper, so I was lucky to have the flip flops to accommodate the charming loaves of baked bread formerly known as my feet.
I wore them with my slides. I didn’t see any sign saying “Victoria's Secret runway”, so Haters could suck it.
Sports bra or Nursing Bra:
You may or may not need this one but it’s nice to have if you want to contain the post birth boobs. I was so obsessed with breastfeeding the first time around that a bra was the last thing on my mind, but bras are small enough that they can get tucked in a bag without taking up too much space and if you want one, there isn’t much of a substitute, so you may as well take it, or even better, wear it when you go in.
PJs and robe:
Again, I didn’t wear my pajamas or robe because I wasn’t in the hospital very long, but it is nice to have a little sliver of home to make you feel that much more human. There’s only so long you can walk around in one of those sheer sheets with your butt hanging out before you lose your mind. You can pack your own hospital gown but keep in mind a hosptial might make you change out of it if it isn't easy to access in an emergency.
Bring something ratty that can be thrown out or burned later. You will have to wear some kind of maxi pads to deal with lochia (a lovely term, I know.) so this isn’t the time to pack a thong. Hospitals will often give you mesh underwear but you might prefer something else to wear home. Maternity underwear is probably your best bet to guarantee a comfy fit.
Most hospitals will supply you with maxi pads to deal with the post birth bleeding, but I suspect they are shipped by the crate with ACME printed on the side. They are usually thick and kind of diaper’ish so it’s nice to have something that has wings, propellers and whatever other cutting edge technology maxi pads keep coming up with. That said, hospital pads are free so load up on the thunder pads if they don’t bother you. Some people have recommended adult diapers but I don't find they are quite as absorbent because they are designed to hold pee vs. postpartum bleeding but feel free to pack them if you want the extra coverage.
This was originally on the “Don’t Bother” list, but many moms in the comments said that they did need them so tuck a few in your bag. They don’t take up much space and you can always use them as coasters if you don’t end up using them.
You can never go wrong with a bath towel – they are the multi-tools of a hospital stay. Use it to sit on if you’re in labor on the way to the hospital to spare your seats if your water breaks (a bit). Take it in the shower with you during your stay. Cover anything gross that you may need to lie on like a questionable pillow or couch arm. It’s always a good go-to item to always have on hand.
Don’t take this to the hospital but leave it in your car to sit on if your water breaks before or on the way to the hospital. Saves on detailing and isn’t a bad thing to have in your glove box anyway.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, hairbrush, lotion, contact lens solution and case, glasses, lip balm, headband or hair ties, prescription medications, or anything else you would take to stay overnight somewhere. There are some gross moments that often come with birth so don’t add chapped lips to them.
Lanolin or nipple cream:
If you’re planning to breastfeed, throw some nipple cream in your hospital bag just in case the road is a little rocky.
You can also add makeup to the list if that’s important to you for photo ops. I didn’t wear makeup because I thought it seemed petty and, “who the hell was I kidding?”, but you may have a completely different take on that.
Gum and Gatorade:
I don’t know what kind of desert air they pump through a hospital, but it’s dry. My hat goes off to you if you work in one because I don’t know how you don’t look like a raisinette. I ate ice chips by the metric ton when I was in labor but the odd stick of gum and sip of Gatorade really hit the spot when I wasn’t allowed to eat. Gum is also good for your spouse who may have been drinking a gallon of coffee just before getting up in your face to say you’re doing a great job and to practice breathing exercises. Feelings may get hurt if you scream, “Your breath smells like a hot dumpster” in the heat of the moment. Take gum.
If you are in labor there is a good chance you will not be allowed to eat in case you need to have surgery quickly, however, if you’ve been given the green light to nibble have a little something delicious on hand – even if it’s just hard candies – so you’re not stuck with hospital apple sauce at 3am.
Photo ID and Insurance Card:
“I’m sorry, you want to know who I am and to pay for this birth?!”
If you’re like me, you’ll need to take your cell phone so you can play games and surf the web if you’re in a bit of a labor limbo. Pack an extra long charger in your hospital bag, too. Most outlets are a few football fields away.
Pen and phone numbers:
Pens are always scarce and you, or your partner, are going to need to fill out forms. Phone numbers are good to take so you can keep playing Wordle while your partner goes off to call your hysterical sister to say, “the baby still isn’t here yet.”
I’ve talked about birth plans and how my plan was “to have a baby”, but it’s never a bad idea to have a general plan of what you’d like to do (or not do) so everyone is singing off the same song sheet. I have a template for one in my Countdown to Baby Prep Kit.
Camera (if you’re not using your phone):
Someone, at some point, will want to see a photo of this kid so here’s a good chance to capture a couple even if it’s on your phone. I have a whole post on 100 Photo Ideas for Your Baby's 'Fresh 48' in the Hospital if you want some inspiration.
Going home outfit:
Let me be really straight here, you ain’t leaving the hospital wearing pre-baby clothes so don’t bother packing them. Pack something clean and comfortable and that’s it. Maxi dress. Yoga pants and a t-shirt. Nun Halloween costume. Doesn’t matter, just make sure it’s comfy.
Big Sister or Big Brother gift:
If you have older children, you could consider having a gift that’s from the baby for them to open when they come to visit. They’re probably going to feel pretty displaced over the next few months so it’s a nice way to introduce them to the new addition to the family. If you want some ideas, check out Best Big Brother or Big Sister Gift Ideas from a New Baby Sibling.
What to pack in your hospital bag for the baby:
Most hospitals will give you a few but it’s a good idea to bring your own whether you’re going to use cloth or disposable. It’s not a bad idea to bring size newborn and size 1 as my 10lb baby never fit the smaller size.
Again, hospitals may or may not supply you with wipes so it’s a good idea to have them on hand.
I was all anti-pacifier until my son was born and my milk didn’t come in. Pacifiers are awesome and I will fight that fact to the death. Take a few different kinds with you to see what fits the bill, although, I had one child that loved soothers and one that didn’t care for them so they are a little hit and miss. Again, small enough to tuck in your hospital bag so take ’em along.
Newborns have wafer-thin nails so wait until you’re a little “with it” before you trim their nails (whether with trimmers or by biting them) as there isn’t a huge difference between the feeling of their nails and the feeling of their skin. Not everyone bothers with them, though. My kids did scratch themselves but other kids aren't born with the same level of talons. You can always use socks in a pinch or just bring a sleeper that has the fold over hand covers.
The hospital will often give you a hat, but take a little one just in case. Personally, I didn’t use hats much once I got home but people believe in hats on babies with an old lady vengeance and a hat war was pretty low on my priority list at the time so I just rolled with it.
Like a towel, receiving blankets can be used for a variety of things. Wrapping a baby up. Used as a nursing cover if you’re not feeling comfortable with putting on a boob show yet. Wiping little mouths, hands, feet. As a car seat cover to block the sun when you leave the hospital. You can’t go wrong.
Going home outfit:
Some people go all nuts with this (I did the first time around) and dressed them like they are greeting the queen. If you aren’t sentimental about this, take a onesie or sleeper to take them home in. I didn’t factor in the inexperience of dressing a newborn (less than a day after giving birth) into the equation and it was an awkward and unpleasant experience for both of us. Keep it simple and ditch anything with buttons – zippers and snaps are the way to go in my personal opinion. Also make sure the clip from the car seat can get between the baby’s legs so skip the sleep sacks, etc.
If you have a baby keepsake book and a kind nurse that has time to help you out, you may be able to score some of your baby's footprints from a seasoned pro who can get a good impression for you.
I wasn’t going to add a nursing pillow to the list because I personally think a home pillow is more important than a nursing pillow – you don’t want to rent a U-haul to take all your crap to the hospital – but a lot of people listed this as one of their 'must haves'. Breastfeeding can be really tricky for some people (me included) so every little bit helps. Even if you don’t want to take it in for the initial check-in, you can put it in the car and send someone down for it if you want to use it.
I don’t think there is any hospital out there that will let you leave the hospital without a car seat (I guess if you’re taking the bus home it’s another story). So leave it in the car and bring it up as you’re packing up to leave. Here’s a quiz to help you find the best car seat for you if you need help too.
Most hospitals will have formula on hand but if you're planning on using a specific brand or fancy formula, you might want to bring it with you. Check with your hospital beforehand to see what their policies are.
What to pack in your co-pilot's hospital bag:
Toiletries & Overnight Stuff
Toothbrush, deodorant, underwear, pillow, blanket or sleeping bag, etc. My friend thought she was going into labor and called her husband at home and told him to pack a bag and meet her at the hospital. It was a false alarm but when he got there he had packed his hockey jersey, some toothpaste (no toothbrush), and a pair of her socks. I kid you not.
More than likely your partner will be able to leave and take care of themselves but it never hurts to take some emergency essentials just in case they unhinge in the flurry of birth.
What not to take to the hospital:
You will need to take it off and leave it unattended. Leave it at home.
Manis and pedis along with hair brushing, bathing, etc. can wait for home so I wouldn't bother bringing things like nail clippers, snot suckers, soother clips, etc.
What about the staff?
Lastly, it’s always a nice gesture to leave a “thank you” for the hospital staff. Bonus points if it’s small enough to fit in your hospital bag easily.
I brought a jar of Hershey's kisses the first time and that went over really well. My mother took in a basket of bananas, apples, granola bars, and other healthier snacks that didn’t need to be refrigerated for the hospital staff that took care of my grandfather.
Nurses, in particular, do a lot of gross stuff for you while you’re in there so, even if it’s small, it’s nice to say, “thank you for holding a bedpan while I vomited. I really appreciated that.” I forgot the second time. I’m a dink, I know.
As with all things, what someone finds essential, someone else will find frivolous, but this gives you an idea of all the things you may or may not have thought of. I hope the list helps and let me know what I missed.
Related: Happily After Giving Birth – 10 Things They Don’t Tell You
What to pack in your hospital bag checklist printable
You can download this checklist for free but it's part of the full 30-page Baby Prep Kit for sale in the shop. I highly recommend it because it's all easy to fill out step-by-step checklists like this one that prepares you for bringing a baby home without overwhelming you.