What do I pack in my hospital bag?

What Do I Pack in My Hospital Bag for Labor?

Emily Blog

Whether you start making a checklist at 20 weeks or you throw things in a bag at 40 weeks, at some point, you’ll be wondering, “what do I bring to a birth?” Sure, the hospital will provide supplies (and honestly, you can arrive and have a baby with nothing on hand), but there are a few things that you’ll want in your hospital bag to help you feel a bit more comfortable and prepared.

Before & After Bags

To keep your arrival simple, consider packing two separate hospital bags: one for immediate labor needs and one for later items. Then you can hop (slowly) out of the car with minimal baggage and your companion’s hands are free to support you. Plus, retrieving the postpartum bag is a great job for a well-meaning family member who may have arrived a little too early.

Add items that will make you more comfortable in a hospital setting, without duplicating too much of what is already there.

The Labor Hospital Bag

  • ID & documents

    In the first bag, pack your must-haves: your insurance card, driver’s license or ID, hospital forms, and birth preferences. Ask your midwife or physician if any other documentation will be required for the birth registration. Don’t forget your phone and charger. You’re going to want to call people after the birth to tell them the exciting news… and what food to bring you for your first postpartum meal.

  • Sounds & scents

    Add any items to your labor bag that will make you more comfortable in a hospital setting (without duplicating too much of what is already there). Labor is a primal experience and as such, you may find that you’re quite sensitive to your environment. Consider what music or sounds you’d like and bring a device on which to play it (and the charger). Your doula may come armed with essential oils, but you may wish to bring along any scents you prefer.

  • Clothing

    Will you be more comfortable in your own clothes or would you rather labor in a gown that someone else will clean? If you prefer your own, pack something that’s easy to slip on and off. An elastic-waisted maxi skirt is a nice option. Consider a camisole or a loose top with a wide neck that will allow for easy skin-to-skin contact with your newborn

    There may be points in labor when you’re hot and others when you’re cold. Pack lightweight layers. The hospital will have warmed blankets, but you may wish to bring a robe. Only bring clothes for labor that you’re willing to get soiled. Bring a hairband or two. If you plan on laboring in water, you may wish to have a sports bra or bikini top for modesty. But at the end of the day, you may find that you’re most comfortable completely nude.

    Your hospital may provide grip socks so you can keep your feet clean without sliding across the floor. If not, bring your own. When leaving for the hospital, wear shoes that are easy for someone else to take off.

  • Comfort

    It may seem like a nice idea to pack your favorite pillows and blankets from home, but weigh how important that is to you against the bulk they’ll add to your bags and how easily they can be cleaned.

  • Toiletries & medication

    Pack toiletries for freshening up, including supplies for contacts if you wear them. If you regularly take medication, the hospital will want to provide your doses so alert your doctor or midwife in advance.

  • Food & water

    It’s critical to stay hydrated in labor. Water and ice will be available at the nutrition station, but it can be nice to have your own water bottle. Pack lip balm in your labor bag to combat dry air and heavy breathing. If eating is permitted, plan for light snacks that will provide quick energy like granola bars, fruit and honey sticks. Mint and ginger can be soothing for nausea. Avoid power drinks or anything heavy.

  • Comfort measures, pastimes & placenta

    If you’re planning an unmedicated birth, consider what tools for managing labor pain may be helpful, such as warm compresses, a rice sock, and tennis balls. Ask your doula if she or he will pack these so you don’t have to. Bring your favorite birth book as reference for positioning and comfort measures. Ask if your hospital has birth balls before hauling one in.

    If you intend to early labor at home for as long as possible, skip activities to while away the time. But if you’ll be admitted for an induction, bring some reading material or an activity to occupy your mind while you’re waiting for things to heat up. Many people find puzzles, Legos, cards or knitting useful for keeping the tone of the room calm and purposeful.

    If you’re planning to keep your placenta, bring a six-pack cooler and three gallon-sized Ziplock bags. You’ll also need a spill kit and proper identification on the cooler for transporting your placenta home. If you’re encapsulating, ask your specialist if they provide this.

  • Pack for your partner too

    Add a few things to the labor bag for your partner. A change of comfortable clothes and an extra sweater is a good idea. Pack a swimsuit if you want to have her or him join you in the tub. A toothbrush and deodorant can be refreshing during a long night. It’s important for your partner to stay fueled so pack additional nourishing snacks and a second water bottle. Tuck some cash in small bills in your bag in case you need to tip for food delivery or pay for a non-patient meal. If you would like photos from a camera other than your phone, make sure it’s fully charged and add it to your bag.

The Postpartum Hospital Bag

You’ll likely be moved to the Mother & Baby unit within a few hours of the birth. This is when the second bag comes into play. In this bag, pack items that will make you comfortable for one to two nights. If you’re planning a surgical birth, account for three to four nights. Don’t pack for an unexpected emergency. In the unlikely event that something urgent necessitates a longer hospital stay, your doula or a family member can stop at home and pick up a few things for you.

  • Clothes & comfort

    One of the best things after birth is your first postpartum shower (second only to your first postpartum meal!). Bring something cozy to put on afterwards. The hospital will provide towels, but they’re likely to be small, scratchy gym towels so you may want to bring your own. Use the hospital’s pads until you get home.

    Postpartum clothes should be loose-fitting with access for skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding, if you plan to do so. A loose skirt, elastic-waisted paints or nightgown will be more comfortable than something fitted. Allow yourself time to make your way back from maternity clothes. Avoid underwire in bras to prevent mastitis. Consider nursing bras to avoid stretching out your favorite lingerie. If you’ve already started producing colostrum, you may start producing milk quickly so pack a few cotton breast pads. You might be sick of the grip socks by day two so pack slippers.

  • Pack for your partner too

    If your partner will remain with you for the duration of your stay, be sure to pack enough clothes and toiletries for him or her as well. Ask in advance what the accommodations are for companions and whether linens and pillows are provided.

  • Car seat & homecoming clothes

    Least of all, don’t forget the baby’s needs. They’re pretty simple: the car seat and an outfit to go home. That’s it. Use the hospital’s diapers unless you prefer a specific brand. Even if you’re planning to use cloth diapers, you may wish to stick with disposable until you’re out of the meconium phase.

    If you intend to bottle-feed, the hospital will provide bottles and nipples unless you prefer a specific brand or material.

    Your newborn will spend most of the first couple days either skin-to-skin on your or your partner or swaddled in a blanket so onesies are unnecessary. The hospital will provide baby blankets and a hat unless you prefer your own. Pack something cute for the first trip home and the car seat is an absolute must. Consider attending a car seat check or hiring a professional to install it a few weeks before your due date.

And that’s it. Your bags are ready. Leave them by the door and relax into your final days of pregnancy, knowing that you’ve thought of everything. You’re well-prepared and ready to be present in your zwischen.

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