Packing your hospital bag is a really exciting – and yes, sometimes nerve-wracking - step in your pregnancy journey. After all, it means the big day isn’t far away and you’ll soon be meeting your little one! Packing your hospital bag is essentially about making sure you have everything you’ll need for your trip to hospital for the birth. This means packing for the labour stages and birth and packing for your post-birth recovery. It’s also about making sure your baby has everything they’ll need, during their first few days with you. Packing your pregnancy bag might sound overwhelming, with plenty to remember to include, but it really needn’t be – simply follow our guide, tick off our checklist and enjoy prepping for this next exciting step in your journey.
When should I pack my hospital bag?
It’s advised to have your bag ready at least two weeks before your due date, earlier if you can, considering due dates aren’t particularly accurate. Of course, you can get it ready sooner than this – and often it can make you feel less anxious once you know it’s packed. Then leave it by the front door, or in your birth partner’s car boot (assuming they’ll be driving you to the hospital) ready to go. You might even want to pack two small separate hospital bags – one for during labour and one for afterwards. That way you won’t need to wade through baby clothes and breast pads as you try to find your maternity notes…
What should I pack for labour?
Packing for labour and birth is primarily about making your experience as comfortable as possible. As a starting point, always make sure you pack your maternity notes, any medication you’re taking and if you’ve written one, a birth plan. Everything else is pretty personal to you – so think about what will keep you most comfy and content during labour.
Here are a few suggestions:
A couple of comfy, loose outfits. Labour can get hot and sweaty and hospital wards can be particularly warm, so pack something lightweight and breathable, that you can move around in. A baggy nighty or big t-shirt is ideal. Loose shorts or pyjama bottoms are great for maintaining your modesty during trips to the loo or for walking on the ward, but particularly in the later stages of labour you’ll need to be uncovered down below. Also bear in mind dark colours are better, in case of stains. For the same reason you might want to pack old clothes that you don’t mind binning if they do get ruined. Pack a couple of changes of clothes too – if your waters break or you’re sweating a lot, you’ll be grateful for a change of clothing. If you’re hoping for a water birth, pack swimwear you’ll feel comfortable in, but nothing that’s difficult to remove, and again only pack swimwear that you don’t mind potentially getting stained.
Your personal chill-out kit. Labour can be lengthy, so you might want to fill the time with a book, magazines, music or podcasts, particularly during the early stages while you’re still relatively comfy.
Your phone charger. You could be there a while.
Snacks, energy drinks, bottles of water. Your hospital might not have a shop nearby, and you might be there for some time. Labour can be exhausting and you’ll need to keep your energy levels up, so take snacks that will give you a sustained carb-rich energy boost and those that don’t need to be kept cool, in case you don’t have access to a fridge– protein bars, fruit, nut bars and popcorn are ideal. Bear in mind some women can feel quite nauseous during labour, particularly once the contractions get stronger, so small light snacks are better than heavy ones.
Your own pillow – take your giant pregnancy pillow if you’ve got the room. It will help you get comfy and if you manage to sneak in a nap you’ll be grateful your brought it.
A fan or water spray to cool you down – labour can get hot and sweaty in the later stages – and a lip balm, as lips can get pretty dried out, especially if you’re taking gas and air.
Anything you plan on using to ease the labour, that a hospital might not necessarily provide. Examples include a TENS machine, with batteries; your birthing ball (check with your midwife whether the hospital has one you can use); aromatherapy oils to be used during hypnobirthing.
Your wash bag with your toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, shower gel, face wash, face cream, hair bobble, deodorant, mini shampoo, basic make-up. These will help you to feel fresh, which in turn will make you feel better. These will come in really handy post-birth too. Remember it’s likely you’ll be staying overnight, possibly for more than one night.
Packing for after birth:
After your birth you’ll want to freshen up, get comfy– particularly if you’ll be staying overnight –get some much-needed rest and start looking after your post-partum body, so this is what you should bear in mind when packing for yourself for after birth. Here are a few of our suggestions and must-haves:
Stick to loose comfy dark clothes, in your maternity size, for your post-birth stay in hospital and for your travelling-home outfit. Your bump is likely to be a similar size to what it was pre-delivery, so stick to clothes in the size you wore during pregnancy. If you have a c-section you won’t want to wear anything tight or with a low waist band, which will rub on your wound, so go for high-waisted and baggy. Opt for front-opening tops or a dressing gown- both are easy to undo quickly - if you’re planning to breastfeed.
You’ll need a few pairs of loose, large, high-waisted knickers. Go up a size - you’ll need roomy knickers, as you’ll be wearing maternity pads post-birth, plus your tummy and pelvic area might be sore. If you’ve had a c-section you won’t be able to wear low-waist bands, so high-waisted is essential. Don’t pack your best underwear, as they’re likely to get stained.
Maternity bra. Whether you plan on breastfeeding or not, a maternity bra is supportive yet comfy at a time when your boobs are likely to be particularly tender.
If you plan on breastfeeding, you’ll need breast pads. Ditto, nipple cream. Don’t worry too much about taking your own breast pump – you probably won’t use one during a short hospital stay, but if you do the hospital should be able to provide one. If you plan on formula-feeding, make sure you take your chosen brand of formula and enough of it– check this with your midwife - plus your sterilised bottles.
Maternity pads. Regardless of the type of delivery you have, you’ll need to wear maternity pads or large sanitary pads for the few days, and possibly weeks, following the birth, so take a full pack.
Slippers or flip-flops are a good idea, for walking around the ward and trips to the loo/ shower.
An iPad – or something similar - will keep you entertained during the night-feeds, or when baby is sleeping during the day.
You’ll really appreciate the toiletries you packed in your labour bag now: they can totally transform how you feel. If you’ve had a c-section, you’ll be limited in how much you can move and may not manage a shower, but it’s amazing how much better you can feel after something as simple as washing your face and brushing your hair.
Eye mask and ear plugs, to help you try and get some sleep, particularly if you’re on a noisy ward.
Packing for a C-section:
For both an elective and emergency c-section, your hospital bag requirements will be pretty much the same as for a vaginal delivery, so don’t worry too much about this when packing your hospital bag. If you’ll be having an elective c-section, you won’t need any labour-easing tools (a birthing ball etc) as you won’t be going through the labour stage, so you can leave these out. However, you may end up staying in hospital slightly longer post-delivery, so bear this in mind when deciding how many outfits and knickers to pack. You will probably be quite limited in movement following your c-section, which means you might not be able to shower, so including a pack of wipes to freshen you up is a good idea. When it comes to clothing, you’ll definitely want to stick to loose and high-waisted, with waistbands that sit higher than your wound and don’t rub against it. You’ll be expected to wear compression stockings following the operation so you’ll need to keep your lower legs bare or accessible, so keep this in mind when deciding on leg length of pyjamas/ trousers.
Packing for baby:
Your baby will need a few essentials from the moment he or she is born. These include:
Vests and sleep suits. Pack at least two of each for each day, more if possible. Pack an additional outfit for their journey home.
A hat, or two. The midwife will want to put your baby straight into a hat so make sure you have one handy. If it’s winter, take one for wearing indoors and a slightly thicker warmer one for the journey home.
One pair of scratch mittens – some sleepsuits have these built in, which is handy. If yours don’t include integrated scratch mittens, pack a separate pair.
One pair of socks – their sleepsuit will probably cover their toes but take a pair of socks to keep those little feet warm, particularly during winter or for the journey home.
One pack of nappies, in a newborn size. Newborn babies usually go through around 10-12 nappies a day, so take a full pack with you!
Cotton wool balls or pads – in the early days when baby’s skin is more sensitive you’ll use these with water instead of wipes during nappy changes and to bathe your baby.
A blanket. The hospital will provide a blanket but it’s nice to have your own as a spare, plus you’ll need it when you leave hospital to keep baby covered and warm.
Muslins. Take at least 4, as these can get soiled with spit-up milk pretty quickly. You’ll soon realise, you can never have enough muslins handy!
Depending on the season and weather, a jacket or snowsuit, for the journey home. Although for safety reasons make sure you remove it before putting them into their car seat.
Finally, and crucially, you’ll need to make sure you have a car seat that’s been correctly fitted for your car. In fact, most hospitals won’t let you take baby home without one. At Mamas & Papas we offer a free car seat consultation, so you can make sure yours is a correct fit for both baby and your car, and that you know how to fit it correctly. It’s a good idea to keep your car seat in your car until it’s time to leave hospital – rather than keeping it next to you in your hospital room- purely to save on space. It’s also worth having a practice getting the car seat in and out of the car in the weeks running up to your due date. It can take a few times to get the hang of it, and that way when it comes to bringing home your little one, you can really focus on enjoying the experience.