A guild full of Hollywood scriptwriters would have us believe that every woman’s delivery is preceded by a madcap, mad-dash trip to the hospital, arriving with mere seconds to spare before baby makes his or her own dramatic arrival. But savvy moms-to-be know that preparing for labor and delivery starts weeks before ever setting a swollen foot in the birthing center door. In addition to drafting a birth plan and assembling a call-down list of anticipatory family members and friends who will be eagerly awaiting news of the birth, packing your birthing bag is one aspect of having a baby that can go off without a hitch with a little planning, forethought, and our time-tested, mother-vetted checklist of essentials.
Must-haves for packing a hospital bag:
- Clothing. Labor can take hours — or even days! — but at least you can ensure that you’ll be as comfortable as possible in the process. In addition to packing a cozy, loose-fitting outfit or two to wear during your stay, you’ll also want to bring a soft and comfortable sweatshirt, sweater or robe, some warm socks and a favorite pair of slippers or flip flops for when you’re walking the halls or heading home with baby. Tip from fellow new moms: Be sure to bring extra clothing for you and your partner — choose comfortable washables that you won’t mind getting stained, as childbirth is both miraculous and messy! Along these same lines, leave your valuables at home.
- Information and documents. Plan ahead and make sure all of your information and documents are in order before you head to the hospital. Include your insurance card (or a copy), any hospital paperwork, your pediatrician’s info, a copy of your birth plan, driver’s licenses for you and your partner, phone numbers for family and friends and a calling card in case cell phone use is not allowed.
- Entertainment. If only baby could come as quickly as you’d like him to! In the meantime, keep calm and carry on with a cache of entertaining distractions while you wait it out. Think light and easy — magazines that you can flip through, books on tape, your favorite music or podcasts, or an all-in-one tablet for watching movies and playing casual games.
- Labor relaxation materials. Besides having entertainment on-hand to pass the time, you may want to consider packing a couple of common relaxation items that you and your partner can use to help ease any pain. New moms swear by rolling pins and tennis balls for back labor massages, and many say that aromatic natural oils and lotions (think lavender and mint) can be very calming and comforting during labor.
- Toiletries. Along with the usuals (toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, etc.), be sure to pack a good moisturizer and gentle shampoo and soap. Many new moms also say that between labor and the often-dry hospital air, lip balm is a must — along with a hairdryer for both your hair and drying off any stitches that may be too sensitive to wipe with a towel.
- Snacks and drinks. Between the vending machine and hospital meals, it’s easy to see why parents are opting to pack their own snacks! Atop the favorites list for new moms are herbal teas, fruit and veggies, nuts, sparkling or purified water and any favorite snacky treats that may not be available via tray or machine.
- Support items. Whether it’s a hand-held fan for when you’re hot or a focus picture of your loved ones to give you the inspiration you need to make it through delivery, support can be found in a variety of favorite items. Some new moms say that sugar-free candies and lozenges helped when they needed something to keep them busy (and for when their mouths were dry), and others say bringing a cushy pillow or bath towel from home made all the difference for pre- and postnatal comfort. Another top pick? Bendy straws! They’re both good to chew on if you’ve got a case of the nerves and also for taking drinks of water without having to sit up or move.
- Postpartum needs. After birth, it’s safe to say you’re going to need a little R&R (and a little extra comfort!). Hospitals usually supply disposable mesh underwear, but many women opt for cotton “granny panties” instead. Others swear by men’s cotton underwear — they’re cheap, offer plenty of room and you won’t feel guilty tossing them when you’re done. Tip: stock up on the darker colors!
Other must-haves: Maternity bras and maternity pads. Underwire bras can be uncomfortable and potentially cause mastitis. Plan on packing two to three maternity bras for optimal comfort. Many new moms also say that maternity, not sanitary, pads are great for their length, softness and absorbency; plan on buying two to three 12-packs. For added cushion during the car ride home, also consider snapping up a waterproof pad.
- Baby gear. Besides having a car seat and warm, weather-appropriate clothing ready for baby’s first trip out into the world, many new parents pack baby announcements and their baby book to capture those first, teeny-tiny footprints. Also to keep in mind for your newborn — baby nail clippers. These can help your little one avoid any accidental scratches while she sleeps or fusses — always better to play it safe!
- Extras. With strict policies against cell phones enforced in many hospitals, don’t forget to bring a roll of quarters in case you find yourself needing to use a pay phone. Spare change also comes in handy for parking and quick trips to the vending machine. Another biggie nominated by new parents: camcorders or cameras (with battery chargers or extra batteries and/or film).
For while you’re in labor: Stretchy headbands, hair ties or “scrunchies” rank high on the list for helping to keep your hair out of your face while you’re hard at work. New moms advise not to pack any hair ties that are plastic or hard — including clips and bobby pins. Also be sure to include a stopwatch or wristwatch with a second hand so your partner can help time your contractions. (Sure, there’s probably an app for that, but wristwatches have done the job just fine for millions of delivering mothers over the years!)