When should I pack my bag for the hospital or birth center?
Have your bag ready by the time you’re about 36 weeks pregnant, since you could go into labor at any time in the weeks before your due date. Keep your “go-bag” near the door – or even in the car.
Having your bag ready ahead of time is a good idea even if you’re having a planned c-section, because labor could start before your scheduled date.
Essentials for the mom-to-be
- A picture ID (driver’s license or other ID), your insurance card, and the name and phone number of your baby’s doctor. Check with the hospital or birth center ahead of time regarding any paperwork you should bring. Ask if it would be helpful for you to bring a copy of your medical records. (If you live far away from the hospital where your healthcare provider delivers, for example, it would be a good idea to have your prenatal medical records with you, just in case.)
- Your birth plan, if you have one. Bring extras in your go-bag so that everyone on your medical team can have a copy.
- Toiletries. Pack a few personal items, such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant, a brush and comb, makeup (if you’re planning to use it), and hair ties or a headband. Hospitals usually provide soap, shampoo, and lotion, but you might prefer your own.
Because space can be limited, consider decanting your toiletries into smaller bottles. A hanging toiletry bag can be helpful, since there’s usually little counter space in the bathroom.
- Eyeglasses, if you wear them. Many expectant moms who wear contact lenses opt not to deal with them while in the hospital or birth center. But if you’ll be wearing contacts, remember to bring lens solution and a lens case. Note: If you’re having a c-section, you’ll be asked to remove your contact lenses before the procedure.
- A bathrobe, a nightgown or two, slippers, and socks. Hospitals and birth centers provide gowns and socks for you to use, but some women also bring their own. Choose a loose, comfortable gown that’s either sleeveless or has short, loose sleeves so that your blood pressure can be checked easily.
Some moms-to-be invest in a specially made birthing gown for the occasion, while others bring along their favorite long t-shirt. Backless slippers and a lightweight robe may come in handy if you want to walk the halls during labor or recovery. Keep in mind that whatever you wear could get stained with blood and other body fluids.
- Cell phone and charger. You may want to bring an extension cord in case your hospital bed is far away from the nearest outlet.
- A notepad or journal and pen. It’s not just a place to jot down thoughts and reminders, it’s where you can also track your baby’s feeding sessions, write down questions for your provider, note what the pediatrician tells you, and so on. (These scribbles will also make for a special keepsake.) Some people bring a baby book so that they can record the birth details right away.
- Whatever will help you relax. Possibilities include your own pillow (use a patterned or colorful pillowcase so it doesn’t get mixed up with the hospital or birth center pillows – and remember it might get stained), a picture of someone or something you love, essential oils (get permission from the hospital or birth center ahead of time), and anything else you find comforting.
- A cord blood kit, if you’re planning to bank or donate your baby’s cord blood. (Make sure you read the paperwork ahead of time.)
What to pack for labor
- Birthing ball (and pump), if you plan to use one. The hospital or birth center may have one, but check ahead to see if it’s the right size for you. It won’t fit in your hospital bag, but it’ll be worth toting along if you’re comfortable on it.
- Books, magazines, or a tablet for watching movies if you’re going to be induced, because it may be a while before labor is underway.
- Massage lotion or oil, if you think you might enjoy a massage while in labor.
- Music. Bring your favorite playlists and a portable speaker.
- Drinks. The hospital or birth center will provide water and probably juice, but to stay hydrated, consider bringing some of your favorite refreshing beverages, like pulp-free fruit juice, carbonated drinks, sports drinks, or tea. These are all examples of clear fluids, which are usually safe to drink during labor for women with uncomplicated pregnancies, but check with your provider ahead of time to make sure.
If you’re having a planned c-section and you don’t have a complicated pregnancy, you may be allowed to drink clear liquids until about two hours before you’re given anesthesia, but hospital policies vary, so double-check with your provider.
- Snacks or light meals. If you’re having a normal pregnancy and are at low risk for complications, you may be able to eat lightly during early labor. But policies differ – some hospitals may not allow any eating during labor – so be sure to check with your hospital or birth center before you dig in.
If you’re having a planned c-section, check with your provider about when to stop eating food. You may be asked to stop eating six to eight hours before your surgery.
What to pack if you’re having a c-section
You might want to add a few things to your packing list if you’re having a planned c-section:
- Underwear that won’t press on your c-section incision. Soft, high-waisted cotton underwear works well. Bring a size that will fit your postpartum shape (you’ll look about 6 months pregnant right after delivery).
- Clothing that will be comfortable over your incision. If you’d rather not wear the hospital-issued gown during post-op recovery, consider bringing loose, high-waisted pants or a flowy dress.
- Compression belt. This “belly binder” will hold everything in place and protect the incision. It will help you move around more easily, reduce swelling, and support your back muscles. Hospitals often provide these, but if yours doesn’t (or if you want a specific belt) you can bring your own.
- Stool softener for constipation. Constipation is common after a c-section. The hospital can provide something for you to take, but you can also bring something you know works for you. (Check with your doctor or midwife before taking anything.)
Packing checklist for your baby’s dad or your labor partner
- Camcorder (if you’re not using your phone’s video function). Someone has to document the big event! Some hospitals and birth centers don’t allow videotaping of the birth itself, but there’s usually no rule against filming during labor or after the birth.
If you plan on using your phone to take photos or video, make sure it’s fully charged, and pack your charger. Note: Not all hospitals let you use plugs in the delivery room, so you might want to bring a portable battery.
- Comfortable shoes and a few changes of comfortable clothes
- Snacks and drinks
- Books and magazines
- Cellphone for keeping family and close friends posted on the labor and birth. Make sure the phone numbers of everyone you’d like to contact are in your phone.
You can also download an app for timing contractions, and load up on games and podcasts in case you have some downtime. Don’t forget the charger.
- Money (or a credit card) for parking and vending machines.
- Bathing suit. If the mom-to-be wants to take a bath or shower during labor, you may want to get in with her to support her or rub her back. It’ll also be helpful if she’s planning a water birth.
- Hand-held fan or water spray bottle to help her keep cool while in labor.
- Pillow and a small blanket, if you prefer to use your own instead of what’s provided by the hospital. It’s important for labor partners to rest during downtimes too.
- Prescription medications and pain reliever, in case you get a headache or have a backache from dozing on the hospital chair or cot.
What to pack for after you deliver
- A fresh nightgown, if you prefer to wear your own. One that opens in front will allow for skin-to-skin contact with your newborn and make breastfeeding easier, if you plan to nurse.
- Comfortable outfit or two. Some moms prefer changing out of their nightgown during their stay in the hospital, especially if they’re expecting visitors.
- Snacks! After many hours of labor, you’re likely to be pretty hungry, and you may not want to rely solely on hospital food. So bring your own – crackers, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, granola bars, or whatever you think you’ll enjoy.
If you’ve had a c-section, you can probably have fluids after an hour, but your provider may have you wait for eight hours or so before eating anything. (This may depend on how much narcotic medication you need and whether you’re feeling nauseated.)
- Eye mask and earplugs. These can help you sleep if your room is bright or noisy.
- Comfortable nursing bras or regular bras. Whether or not you choose to breastfeed, your breasts are likely to be tender and swollen when your milk comes in, which can happen anytime during the first several days after delivery. A good bra can provide some comfort, and nursing pads can be added to help absorb leaks.
- Several pairs of maternity underpants. Some women love the mesh underwear provided by the hospital, but others don’t. You can’t go wrong with your own roomy cotton underpants.
- Sanitary pads. The hospital will provide sanitary pads to absorb all the blood after delivery, but if you like using a specific brand, feel free to bring your own. Make sure you have a supply of heavy-flow pads waiting at home!
- Book or app on newborn care. The hospital will probably provide you with some information, but you may prefer your own resources. Of course, the postpartum nurses will be there to answer questions and show you how to change, hold, nurse, and bathe your newborn if you need guidance.
- Nursing pillow. If you plan to breastfeed, a specially designed pillow can provide good support.
- Photos of your other children. When they come to visit, they’ll see that you haven’t forgotten them.
- Gifts for older siblings. Some parents bring gifts for the new baby to “give” to older brothers and sisters, such as small toys or a “big brother” or “big sister” t-shirt.
- Folder or large envelope. Use this to keep hospital handouts (on postpartum care, baby care, or breastfeeding, for example), receipts, copies of records, and other papers in one place.
- Outfit to wear home. Bring something roomy and easy to get into (you’ll probably still look 6 months pregnant) and a pair of flat, comfortable shoes.
- Bag to put dirty clothes in. When you get home, you (or a helper) can pop them in the washing machine.
- Your breast pump, if you plan to use one. Hospitals provide pumps, but it’s a good idea to have your own on hand for your meeting with the lactation consultant.
- Cooler bag. You can use this to store breast milk and any drinks or perishable snacks you may have brought.
Essentials to pack for your baby
- Installed car seat. You can’t drive your baby home without one! (It’s the law.) Have a rear-facing car seat properly installed ahead of time and know how to buckle in your baby correctly.
- Baby nail files, clippers, and/or mittens. Some infant hospital gowns have little built-in mittens to keep babies from scratching themselves, but you may want to bring baby nail files or clippers to trim tiny nails, or pack mittens from home.
- Outfit for baby pictures. Many hospitals, and some birthing centers, offer newborn pictures. You might like to pack something special for your baby to wear for these photos.
- Baby clothes for the hospital stay. Your baby can wear the pajamas or sleepers provided by the hospital, but you can dress her in baby clothes of your choosing, if you like.
- Coming-home outfit. Your baby will need an outfit to go home in, including socks or booties if the clothing doesn’t have feet, and a soft cap if the air is cool. In winter, pack a fleece jumpsuit and mittens too. Make sure your baby’s outfit has legs (is not a baby “gown,” for example) so that the car seat strap can fit between them.
- Some burp cloths or cloth diapers for catching any spit-up while burping your baby.
- Receiving blanket. The hospital or birth center will provide blankets for swaddling your baby while you’re there, but you may want to bring your own to tuck around your baby in the car seat for the ride home. Make it a thicker one if the weather’s cold.
What not to bring to the hospital or birth center
- Lots of cash or other valuables
- Medications, including vitamins. Any medication or vitamin you bring from home must be approved by the hospital’s pharmacy – and the process can take a long time. Ask your provider if the hospital will provide all the medications you’ll need, or if you should bring your own medications and get the hospital’s approval before you arrive.
- Diapers and diaper wipes. The hospital will provide diapers for your baby while you’re there. Leave your supply at home.
- Bottles and nipples, if you’re planning to bottle-feed. The hospital will have these on hand.
- Candles. Hospitals and birth centers won’t allow you to burn them. You might be able to use a diffuser for essential oils, though.
Moms’ tips for packing a hospital bag
“For the drive to the hospital, you may want to bring a towel you don’t care about and a garbage sack. Put the garbage sack down on your seat and then the towel. That way, if your water breaks on the way to the hospital, you don’t have to worry about cleaning the car when you get home.” – Anonymous
“Bring both your glasses and your contacts, along with storage case and solution. I wore my glasses during labor with my first one, but it got so hot that the glasses fogged up and I couldn’t see what was going on – very frustrating. And just trying to wear glasses during delivery was annoying and one frustration I could’ve done without. So bring both. You may want to switch back and forth for comfort or convenience.” – Anonymous
“I brought a few changes of clothes, since you stay a few days after the baby is born. With hormones and everything, I sweated like crazy after I gave birth, so it was nice to change into some fresh pj’s or some sweats or shorts during the day, especially with people always coming to visit. Just something that made me feel better.” – groovitha
“Disposable underpants! The mesh panties they give you at the hospital with the sanitary pads are not so comfy … and once you get home, you probably won’t be graduating to just a pad or pantyliner for a couple of weeks, and you’ll run out of the mesh panties before then.” – Anonymous
“Bring the baby book. They will need to get footprints, and while they are doing it for the birth certificate they can use the rest of the ink and make prints for your book!” – Anonymous
“Bring baby nail clippers or an emery board. The hospital didn’t supply clippers for fear of liability, and as a result my son gouged his face before he was 12 hours old.” – Jen
“One thing that I didn’t realize I would need was nipple cream. I found breastfeeding hard to get used to and had to get someone to buy this stuff for me because my nipples got chapped!” – Portsie
“Bring cheap throwaway flip-flops to wear in the bathroom and shower. The hospital floors were icky.” – kaym12
“A box of chocolates or yummy treats for the nurses, left at the nurse’s station as you check in, is a nice gesture. Being a maternity nurse is a huge commitment, and it’s nice to recognize that with a little something, since you’ll be seeing a lot of each other over the next couple of days.” – Marci
“I brought everything on our list with our first child, and my husband had to haul it around. I didn’t use half of it. A change of comfy clothes for me, my hubby, and the baby was all we needed. Toiletries were good to have, like my toothbrush, of course. But everything else seemed to just clutter up our small room. Even the diaper bag I packed never got opened! If you feel like you need all the extras, I would leave it in the car, just in case.” – Jannell21
“Bring your breast pump to the hospital, especially if you’ll have a lactation consultant visit. I had such issues pumping the first time, so I’m bringing my pump this time to get their expert advice, which I probably won’t get outside of that setting.” – vdndip1317
“Bring a big insulated cup with a straw. With my first, all they gave me was tiny plastic cups and a small pitcher with room-temp water. I was so thirsty from nursing!” – a BabyCenter Member
“I just wore the hospital clothes – less laundry to do once I got home! You never want to make more work for yourself!” – A BabyCenter Member
“Take a nursing pillow to support your baby during breastfeeding, because it does hurt having a baby on top of your incision.” – tendtime (c-section mom)
“Overalls have worked great for me to wear home. I’ve had four scheduled c-sections.” – Kelli1714 (c-section mom)
“Bring snacks like granola bars, prunes, or anything with fiber, because you’ll be hungry afterward. In fact, eat as much high-fiber, low-fat food as you can for about three or four days before your c-section. Having your first bowel movement is very painful, and this helps ease the pain.” – samnroxy04
“Sanitary pads! No one ever wants to tell you this, but the hospital gives you giant 1950s pads for the bleeding. Just take one pack of thick, long pads.” – pppjones
“I used the hospital’s undies, sanitary pads, and socks. I also didn’t bother with my own nightgown or robe – I just put a second hospital gown on backward. Like most women, I bled a lot and I didn’t want to mess up my own undies and nightgown. I saved those for when I went home.” – Abigail
“I bought a pair of nursing pajamas to wear in the hospital but never put them on. The [hospital] gown was a lot more comfortable. And after a c-section I didn’t want to move around too much.” – AManfred (c-section mom)
“My sister-in-law gave me these silk capri pj’s with a drawstring in front. She cut a U shape out of the very front so it wouldn’t rub. I felt divine in my cozy pj’s, and I wore them for weeks afterward. Also bring some perfume, makeup, body wash – whatever you use to feel pretty. After all you go through, you don’t feel too pretty.” – lollimom
“Order and have somebody else pick up your pain meds before you leave the hospital. I made the mistake of waiting until we left the hospital, and I didn’t think that I would make it!” – kaym12 (c-section mom)
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