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What to Bring to the Hospital

Now that I'm doing monitrice-doula service, I'm being asked what women should pack for the hospital. Here, I share what, to me, are the bare-bones items necessary for a new mom's labor and postpartum stay. When making a decision about what to bring, take into consideration 1) when you'll need the item 2) if it brings you great comfort 3) the limited space in hospital Labor & Delivery and postpartum rooms. If you feel angst about not having something, bring it! If you can live without it, leave it behind. 

What to Bring to the Hospital

(in 2 parts)

Part 1 – For the Labor

Part 2 – For the Hospital Stay 

Part 1 - Bring in when admitted to the Labor & Delivery Suite 

  • iPod, headphones and/or docking station
  • Your pillow, any color pillowcase but white
  • Camera with extra batteries and memory cards
  • Chargers for phones and cameras - Some find it easier to buy a new charger and keep it in the Hospital Bag instead of trying to grab the one by the bed or in the bathroom when the time to go comes. You can always keep it in the suitcase after the birth for trips and vacations.
  • Chapstick – at least two
  • Cooler – Pack with easy to eat, non-smelly, snacks (crackers & cheese, protein bars, PB&J, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, cottage cheese, etc.); no need to pack juice, the hospital has all you’ll need.
  • Water bottles – Hospitals have the best ice, but the water comes from the faucet. Bringing a half-gallon bottle of water or 2-3 liter bottles is a good idea. No need to bring cups or sports bottles.
  • Ten $1 bills and $5 of quarters (more or less) – When the cafeteria is open, credit cards are fine, but if you’re needing food in the off-hours, ones and change is always a good idea
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofen – for partner/other family members, not mom!
  • Sports bra & sarong – Many women find wearing these far preferable to the hospital gown. The gowns make women “patients”; the sarongs are pretty and keep the room bright and remembering this is a birth, not an illness.
  • Hair ties or barrettes
  • Hairbrush or comb, especially if mom likes to have her hair brushed.
  • Slippers, flip flops or other slip-on shoes for mom.
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste - can help mom feel refreshed.
  • A birth ball if the hospital doesn’t provide one. Be sure to ask at your hospital tour. I don’t know of any hospitals that don’t have them, but make sure you know if you need to bring your own or not. 

After the birth, your support person will take the cooler and dirty pillowcase back to the car. The bra and sarong can also go out to the car. If you brought a birth ball, it will go back in the car as well. The best time to make the run to the car is as you are being checked into your postpartum room. That way, the items brought into the room are the ones you need and the things you don’t need anymore aren’t cluttering the often small postpartum room. 

Part 2 – Leave in the car until after the baby is born and you are in your postpartum room. 

  • Your computer – Be sure to bring your cord and/or extra batteries. If you’re going to download pictures from the camera, bring the adapter cord, too. Addendum - It was brought up that leaving the computer in the car is probably not the best idea, so you decide when to bring it in... during labor or, better yet, have someone bring it to you after the birth and once you're admitted to the postpartum floor. If an epidural is a given, having the computer during labor can provide entertainment and helps the time pass quickly.
  • Another non-white pillowcase - Trade out the dirty one from labor… clean case on pillow; old, dirty case in the car.
  • Bras, nursing ones – If you’re used to wearing one to sleep. Your breasts will be bared more than covered, so if you don’t normally wear a bra, it isn’t the most necessary thing quite yet. I encourage women who don’t have to wear a bra for shoulder/back comfort to wait until after engorgement to put them on. Bras during engorgement (potentially, days 2-5 postpartum) can cause clogged ducts and possibly infection. It’s best to not wear any underwire bras during nursing for this reason.
  • No need to bring a nursing gown. The hospital gown is perfect for the entire stay. You’ll be sweating like crazy and bleeding a lot, so might as well use their gowns and change it several times a day. (Do not feel like you can only change it once a day! Change it as many times as you want or need to so you feel fresh.) Some women have said stretchy, inexpensive tank tops are more comfortable than the hospital gown, so that's an idea, too.
  • Deodorant/Antiperspirant – You’ll probably use this a couple of times a day. It’s amazing how much you’ll sweat those first few days after the birth.
  • The hospital provides tee shirts for the baby, so you can use those, but it’s sweet to put your baby in his or her own clothes. Know they might get messy from the meconium, which is hard to get out, or barf, so save the beautiful outfit for going home pictures. Onesies are the best thing for hospital-wear. Especially if you’re going to be putting your baby in organic clothing, this is the time to introduce your baby to your personal style. 5-6 should be plenty. Make sure they don’t end up in the hospital’s laundry, so just like with the pillowcases, anything but white is best.
  • The hospital also provides disposable diapers for the baby, but if you’re going to use cloth diapers, you might choose to do so even in the hospital. This can be cumbersome, what with dirty/meconium diapers that need to go home and be washed, but plenty of women feel this is totally worth it. Others who cloth dipe wait until the meconium has passed to use them. Your choice is the right one.
  • The hospital provides incredibly unattractive mesh underwear. It’s functional, but if you wear underwear larger than a size 9 or 10 (not clothes size 9 or 10, but underwear size 9 or 10!), you might want to bring your own. Larger women struggle with the mesh; it cuts into the skin and can make your postpartum time miserable.
  • The hospital also provides sanitary pads (the size of your pillow); use theirs, but have a goodly supply of large, extra-absorbent pads at home, in the bathroom. Have several garbage bags in your garbage can in the bathroom, too. The pads fill the can quickly, plus the pads can smell if left in there too long. It’s best to empty the bathroom trash a couple of times a day those first few days. Keeping bags in the bottom of the can saves trips to the cupboard to grab them.
  • If you need a breast pump in the hospital, they will provide all you need to pump… from bottles to nipples or syringes… no need to bring any pumping supplies at all. Unless you’re going to work soon after having the baby, you might not ever need to pump or, if you do, the standard advice is to wait until the baby is at least 4-weeks old before beginning. If you have questions, feel free to ask me or your Lactation Consultant. The hospital offers LCs to breastfeeding women, but know they are typically extremely busy, so you might need to have your own breastfeeding resources at your fingertips. I highly recommend Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding and The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Your Child from Birth Through Weaning by William Sears. (Anything by the Sears pediatricians is fantastic!) I know it seems odd to recommend 2 books by men, but I promise, these will get you through just about any nursing problem.
  • Several pens – You’ll be filling out lots of paperwork… from the menus to the birth certificate. Pens are at a premium in the hospital, having your own expedites many processes.
  • Going home clothes for you and the baby – For you, bring something very loose, a large tee shirt and sweat or yoga pants are good choices. You want something you can nurse in and also something that won’t rest on your cesarean incision if you have one. Expect your belly to still look pregnant! That is absolutely normal for another week or two. It might be tempting to cram yourself into jeans, but resist the temptation and be comfortable. Style takes a distinct last place next to comfort and function. For the baby, this is the time to bring the lovely Going Home Outfit. Bring 2. It is so common to have the first one get dirty from poop or barf that I’ve seen lots of babies going home in tee shirts because parents didn’t bring 2 outfits.
  • The carseat! I highly encourage attending the Car Seat class at the Police/Sheriff’s Department so you are 100% sure of putting the carseat in properly. You will bring the carseat in from the car after mom is discharged, but still in the room. The baby will not be discharged without the nurses seeing the baby in the carseat. 

These lists are merely suggestions. You bring whatever else you may need to make your hospital stay more comfortable. If you see something glaringly missing, please let me know so I can add it. 

Below is the abbreviated checklist of all items so you can make sure everything you brought in goes out with you. Remember, if you bring something not on this list, add it to the Bring It Back Home list! 

I hope your birth and hospital stay are as comfortable as can be when you aren’t sleeping in your own bed. You’ll be home with all your stuff soon enough. And congratulations! 

Bring It Back Home List 

  • iPod
  • iPod headphones or docking station
  • Camera plus extra batteries and memory cards, also adapter cords
  • Computer plus electric cord and extra batteries
  • Chargers for cell phones
  • Pillow + 2 pillowcases
  • Chapstick
  • Cooler
  • Water bottles
  • Tylenol or Ibuprofen
  • Hair ties and barrettes
  • Hairbrush
  • Slip-on shoes
  • Birth ball
  • Bras and underwear
  • Baby clothes and hats
  • Cloth diapers if you brought them
  • Breastfeeding books
  • Going Home outfits
  • Carseat 

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Reader Comments (24)

I was shocked to find out last week that the largest hospital in my county does not have a birth ball! So, thank you for including the part about asking ahead of time... I actually told the couple prenatally "The hospital has a ball so don't worry about bringing one" and I felt terrible for assuming it! Thankfully, a sister in law was able to bring one for us after we discovered our error.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I totally agree with pens! I don't know how many times I've had a patient I'm discharging who was held up because I needed to go hunt down a pen (no, you can not have mine, pens are worth their weight in gold, and no often I can't just let you have it while I'm in the room because that paperwork takes more than five minutes to fill out, especially if you and your partner still aren't sure you want to name the baby after his great-aunt Elspeth and I have other patients who need me too!)

I might say that it would be better not to leave the laptop in the car, for safety reasons, and the partner who's will play on the internet during labor is just as likely to watch TV during labor, so keeping it out of their hands isn't going to make a big difference whether you keep a gadget out of his hands or not. And when you go home REMEMBER YOUR CHARGERS! They get left behind ALL the time ;)

I'd only add massage oil to this list. Something scentless that you know will not irritate your skin. If you have a doula/monitrice she will likely bring it with her, but if you do not have one, or need a specific blend to which you are not allergic, bring your own!

Nice post Barb, thanks.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterredpomegranate

I've been packing my bags for my impending 3rd birth (38 weeks now) at a birth center, so this has totally been on my mind! One thing that I took to both my previous births (1st in hospital, 2nd at my mom's house) is Vaseline! My pediatrician growing up taught my mom this trick of using Vaseline (or my midwives use olive oil) on the baby as soon as you put a diaper on them. It helps keep the meconium from sticking hard to their skin and makes those first few diaper changes much easier. Hospitals may be have Vaseline readily available, but I brought my own little tube just to make it easier. I know with my first birth, I WAAAAAY overpacked, didn't take anything back to the car during the stay, so we were overflowing by the time we actually went home. I found I didn't need much to keep me entertained after the birth. Just holding my baby, breastfeeding, and sleeping were plenty to keep me busy!

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

Good list. Things for C-section mamas or just-in-case:
* Hand sanitizer/wet wipes for hand cleaning - C-section mamas won't get to a sink until they get up to go to the bathroom for the first time, which can be a day later. People can bring you your toothbrush and toothpaste and cup to spit into, but they can't bring you a sink.
* Dry shampoo powder (if your hair gets oily after a couple days without a shower and it bothers you)
* Your own shampoo/body wash/soap for comfort once you finally get that first shower.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I never understand the chapstick one. Do other people really notice that their lips are dry in between contractions? Is this an epidural thing, like bringing magazines to while away the hours? For my first labour, I was so busy vomiting uncontrollably from the pain that chapstick was the last thing on my mind. (Mind you, I also vomited all over my comfy labour outfit, my comfy from-home pillow, and my birthing ball. And my husband. I always tell my girlfriends to pack a spare shirt for their partners, as there's a good chance he's going to get hit by flying fluids, and then both of you will wind up wearing hospital johnnies...)

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterT

Chapstick is one of the most requested things in labor! Next to water/ice chips. Lips get cracked and peel, they split and bleed without Chapstick. Maybe your barf kept yours moisturized?

This throwing up thing is so interesting. In homebirths, women *rarely* barfed. In the hospital, they barf all the time. I *swear* it's a hypoglycemic thing.

May 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I think "lip stuff" is a great idea. Women may not notice it if they're missing it but they sure notice it when it's there! Often, if there's a long pushing stage I try to do frequent lip/face care. Wiping the face and the lips with a cold wash cloth and then putting on lip stuff. Most women sigh with relief when they get that kind of care.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterredpomegranate

Although I'm in the UK this is a REALLY helpful list! Thank you!

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHayley

It can't have been a hypoglycaemic thing in my case as I was in the UK where the midwives don't care if you eat all the way through labour. :P

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterT

I'm addicted to chapstick- if I find myself out of the house for an extended period of time without it I'll buy more.

The one thing I would add is fingernail clippers. I snagged my nail on something and I was all I could think about. My mom bought some from the gift shop that were a step above using a sharpened spoon.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCasey

I just love this post! Can I borrow this for future doula clients? (Attending a DONA training in 2 weeks!)

I moaned a lot during labor, and my mouth was uncomfortably dry. Lots of water and juice helped- I would hold it in my mouth as long as possible between contractions, to help moisten my mouth. Lip balm would have been lovely if I had thought of it! It was in my purse the whole time!

Hospital gowns are NOT easy to nurse in, which I found out during my first birth. I would not recommend wearing those gowns after the birth. During my second birth I wore an old nursing tank top, which made for quick access after the birth for my son to nurse, and it didn't get so messy that it was unusable afterward. All the gooey stains came out! After the birth, I wore comfy old sweats in dark colors (black, gray and red) that wouldn't show any blood stains. I also wore cheap nursing tanks (got them at walmart.com, 2 for $20, and they have held up for 16 months!) for easy access. I brought a pretty sweater to cover up in case of cold or company. I was SOOOOO much happier with these items than my previous experience with nursing gowns and hospital gowns.

As for the barfing thing, I threw up at both births. The first I didn't have anything to eat since the previous day (I really wasn't hungry until after the birth). I threw up mostly bile. The second I did have a breakfast shake very early in my short labor, and drank juice and water at the hospital (didn't want anything more substantial). I threw up the shake and water. I would have thrown up solid foods too, I think.

Great post, Barb!

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen B

NONE of the hospitals provide birth balls here. That is absolutely unheard of in Nashville, even @Vandy with the Midwives! LOL. Wish the opposite were true, but I'd probably worry about their disinfectant process unless they have covers for them.

May 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessicaq

Anyone is welcome to use this... just attribute it to me, please. :)

Barbara E. Herrera, LM, CPM

May 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Re: cleanliness and hospital birth balls, I cover the ball with a blanket and then have mom sit on a Chux. The thought of sitting on it without a cover is guh-ROSS.

I think I'm going to pull the computer into the Part 1 OR have someone bring it from home once mom and babe are admitted to the postpartum floor. You're right, the computer shouldn't sit in the car during labor.

May 28, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

I'm planning to bring an electric kettle to be able to have a "home birth epidural" aka hot towels....hot tap water doesn't get hot enough (I've heard)...although in the US, you may need to get the appliance cleared by the hospital's engineering dpt first.

May 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVW

Yeah, no electric kettles allowed here.

May 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Re: the electric kettle....you can use the unit microwave to warm up wet towels. I do it all the time at home so that I can put it on my neck and back. I know during my last birth, they had hot towels across my shoulders, because I was cold at the very end.

May 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen B

The one thing I found indispensable in labor was one of those sports spray bottles with a fan attached. Lovely, lovely, lovely when water was sprayed and fanned onto my face, far better than cool rags. I didn't really want anything else I brought, anything I wanted or needed the nurses got for me. They also got me a full dinner after my second child was born, even though it was 2 or 3 am by that point (he'd been born at 1:30).

My postpartum room had a queen sized bed, a table and chairs, a rocking chair and recliner and lots of shelf space. I think I was spoiled.

May 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

From an OB RN
Yes, agree with most....make the pens BLACK...must be be black for the paternity form.
A clipboard is nice, we have them, but not always enough to go around on a busy day.
Your own coffee cup/mug for tea....Ours are nasty gross plastic, although we do have one of those awesome hot water taps!
We do have birthing balls at "my" hospital, several sizes.
Not a huge fan of onsies at the hospital, they often pull at the cord clamp and seem to make it stay damp longer, IMHO.
Make sure coming home outfit is not one of those, admittedly adorable gowns, you will have to hike it up around their waist to make the carseat work.
Know how to work your carseat! At "my" hospital, and most I know of, we cannot help you with the carseat, unless we happen to be a certified carseat technician. This is per the hospital lawyers.
I LOVE the hospital undies....I stole, uhh, I mean borrowed, some for my homebirths! We have 2 sizes, regular, and large, and the large go VERY large.
I personally am not a fan of mom wearing deodorant...I'd rather the baby smell her than Secret Clinical Strength.
Just my 2 cents worth!

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

A fleece throw for mom and one for her birth partner....and sweaters! It's COOOOOOOOLLLLLLD in those damn hospitals! After asking for the 6th or 7th warmed "blanket" the staff gets annoyed, lol!

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColleen, LM

Denise, at the hospital breastfeeding class I took, they told us to avoid any perfumed cosmetics for a few days after the birth, and ask visitors to leave off any perfume/after shave. I thought that was very forward-thinking.

Colleen, I recently received a "welcome" letter from the hospital I'll be birthing at that explicitly stated to bring clothes to wear in rooms heated to 20.5C (69F)...things is, here in NZ (land of no central heat in private homes) that 's considered warm ;-)

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVW

The. Best. List. EVER. I will not only use it for my own bag as my EDD with baby two is just around the corner, but will share it as well and make sure I credit you. The first time around, I SO overpacked! Thanks!

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClaire H

Thanks so much for this list! I'm packing today! Woohoo!

As a side note with the vomiting home/hospital discussion, I threw up every contraction for my three hour labor with my first child, a home birth. I do think my midwife was surprised, but I wasn't, my mother did the same thing with her births.
Didn't vomit even once with my second, which was a hospital birth (though admittedly I only showed up 20 minutes before the baby arrived! :) The second time around I was much more careful to only eat liquid foods once I went into labor and I think it helped -- that chunky pizza throw-up is still far too vivid a memory from #1! Of course I have fast births so that makes a big difference.

August 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVanessa

The only things I can think of to add are a written call list with names/numbers that you can give to someone else to make calls to extended family and friends and your baby book if you want the staff to put baby's footprints and handprints directly into your book..

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterErika

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