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Getting your labour bag ready is a tricky task. You're packing for several eventualities as labour and birth can go many ways, including the way you're least expecting.
You also have to pack clothes and other items for a human being you haven't yet met – it's like the most complicated surprise holiday ever. As if preparing for life with a newborn weren't a terrifying enough prospect in itself…
To help you get organised and plan ahead for every potential scenario, here's our hospital bag packing guide with tips from Mumsnetters who have been where you are now.
When should I pack my hospital bag?
You can never be too early when it comes to packing your bag (within reason... we're not saying you should start the minute you get a positive pregnancy test). The general recommendation is that you should pack your bag four to six weeks before your due date. Using the birth bag checklists below will help you get the essentials together and ensure nothing is forgotten on the day. And since we're planning for all eventualities, your birth partner should also pack a bag.
Once your bag is packed, keep it in a handy place in the house so you can add last-minute items before you walk out the door.
Hospital bag checklist
It helps to break down your packing list into three categories:
A labour bag: filled with items for labour and birth
Your own bag: Items for after the birth and for you
Your baby's birth bag: Items for the baby, like clothing, muslins and nappies
You may wish to separate these into different bags, or organise them into categories within a small suitcase using packing cubes or large weekend bag so you have less to carry.
Plus, it's worth bearing in mind that delivery suites are often short on space so you can always leave your bag of items for after the birth to take to the postnatal ward in the car, and send your birth partner out for it after you've given birth.
The essentials for you and your newborn baby: quick look
Any expectant parent who has experienced labour will no doubt have different must-haves that they'll recommend based on their own birth(s) and what they may/may not have found helpful.
Seeking recommendations on our Talk boards from other parents is a good place to start if you feel like there's anything you'd like to know ahead of birth.
Otherwise, a general rule of thumb for all hospital bags is to have the following items packed and ready to go...
Hospital bag checklist: essential items
Your birth plan
Your maternity notes
An old nightie/T-shirt to give birth in
Bottle of water with a 'sports' lid
Snacks (you could be there a while)
Hair clips/band to keep your hair out of your face
Breast pads and nursing bras
Maternity pads and 'old' knickers
Clean sleepwear if you're staying in overnight
Nappies and wipes
Phone and charger (with a long cable, if you have one)
Clothes to go home in, for you and baby
What to pack in your hospital bag for labour and birth
As well as the above essentials, you may wish to pack and take with you any other items that may help you during labour. Examples include:
Your own birthing ball.
Music or hypnobirthing tracks.
Essential oils, massage lotion.
Spray bottle to spritz your face during sweaty moments – and a flannel to cool your face.
A handheld fan is useful to have, too.
TENS machine, if you're using one.
Lip balm for dry lips if you're using gas and air.
Headphones should you wish to listen to music (and drown out distracting noises).
There's also a few things you can pack to make things more comfortable for you throughout labour:
Bottle of water with a 'sports bottle' type lid, or straws, so you can sip while lying down.
Cereal bars and other individually wrapped snacks are good. Dextrose tablets and isotonic drinks are also good for a short, sharp burst of energy. Take something for afterwards, too, in case you give birth in the wee small hours, hospital catering is closed and the vending machine is on the blink.
Flip flops and a dressing gown in case you don't have an ensuite loo in the labour room and need to pop out.
"Definitely a pillow or cushion from home - the horrible lumpy plastic covered ones in the hospital are not comfy!"
Some spare socks – lots of women get very cold feet during transition.
A couple of things to pass the time (in the early stages of labour there may be a few hours when you're thankful for a magazine and iPad).
Your own pillow (for home comforts) if you want it and the hospital are ok with it. You may struggle to squeeze in a pregnancy pillow, depending on how big it is, but it can be useful if it's one that can be adapted for breastfeeding.
Towels - handy to have should you have opportunity for a shower during labour.
A small stock of maternity pads, basic toiletries, a nursing bra and a clean nightie (just so you can get cleaned up, have a shower and get comfy after the birth until your birth partner can grab your postnatal bag).
Hospital bag items: Editor's picks
What to pack in your hospital bag for after the baby's born
Another nightie to wear if you stay in – front opening is best if you are intending to breastfeed (just try to remember to do it up again before you pop to the hospital shop).
Maternity pads, breast pads, and nursing bras. Some people opt for disposable paper knickers, but take it from us, unless you like rustling when you sit down, do yourself a favour and sacrifice a few trusty pairs of 'big' pants for your first post-birth days.
Two bras, in case of leaks if you're breastfeeding.
Slippers in a size up, in case your feet swell.
Phone and charger, maybe a portable charger in case you can't reach a plug.
A camera if you don't have one on your phone.
Plastic bag to put dirty clothes in.
Some nipple shields for short-term support if you're breastfeeding.
A towel, should you have chance to have a shower in the hospital. You may also wish to pack flip flops for this, too.
A perineal irrigation bottle, aka a peri bottle. Designed for vaginal deliveries, a peri bottle can help when you need to make that dreaded first visit to the restroom after birth.
A postnatal relief spray that can be used for both vaginal deliveries and C-sections.
Headphones so you can block out the noise of the postnatal ward with some music, and an eye mask and ear plugs to help you sleep.
Clothes to go home in. If you don't think you'll have enough room for these, you can always leave them behind to be brought in later. But if your other half's not exactly Gok Wan you'd be wise to get together an outfit you've chosen and leave it somewhere obvious.
Pen and notepad are useful to have just in case there is medical information you need to know/remember (or use your phone's notes app).
A breast pump should you wish to express milk for baby.
"I’m a midwife and the cards mean more than anything else, words from the heart."
Would you believe that baby probably needs less things than you in your hospital bag?
Nappies and nappy sacks.
Bodysuits and baby vests (three of each – just in case).
A baby hat to keep them warm.
A dummy should you wish to use one.
Socks or booties.
Bottles, milk and anything else you need if you know you will be bottle-feeding.
Baby car seat – remember you won't be able to drive home from the hospital without one.
While you're shopping for your newborn essentials, buy the baby an outfit for the trip home (an all-in one is best) and don't forget a jacket if it's likely to be cold.
What does my birth partner need to pack for labour?
A comfortable outfit and shoes (there might be a lot of pacing and waiting around and your birth partner's comfort won't be the first thing on anyone else's mind).
A change of clothes.
Swimwear if they want to get in a birth pool with you if you are having a water birth.
Plenty of snacks and drinks.
Camera, phone and charger.
What sort of bag should I use as a labour bag?
Something compact that makes it easy to find everything is best – a small holdall, cabin-sized suitcase or a rucksack is useful. One with a pocket for your phone and charger so you can find that and other essentials easily is a good choice.
A similar-sized one for 'post' birth can stay in the car boot until you need it. Your baby won't need too much so you can always leave a pack of nappies, the jacket and car seat in the car and pack the rest into your changing bag.
What do I pack in my hospital bag for a planned caesarean?
If you know you're having a caesarean, that does take some of the guesswork out of things, and you'll also know exactly when you're going into hospital so you can get prepared in plenty of time. It's still worth packing a few weeks ahead, however, just in case you should go into labour early and need to get to the hospital fast.
Your birth plan will obviously look a little different, but you can still ask for things like your choice of music to be playing during the caesarean, for them to dim the lights as soon as possible, and to be helped in having skin-to-skin contact straight after the baby is born.
The packing lists for your baby and after birth remain pretty much the same, but exchange the 'for labour and birth list' above with the following items you'll want during birth and while recovering from a caesarean:
Loose-fitting clothes to go home in – a tunic and leggings with a high waist are good.
High-waisted knickers to wear after birth that won't rub on your caesarean scar.
A bottle of water with a sports lid as you won't be able to sit up in bed to drink easily.
Flip flops or slippers you can put on easily – you won't be bending down to put shoes on for a while, either.
Extra pillows, and possibly a breastfeeding pillow to make sitting up to feed easier.
Don't forget that you will still experience some bleeding after birth so you'll still need maternity pads.
Do I still need a hospital bag if I'm having a home birth?
Yes. Firstly because there's always a chance with a home birth that you might end up transferring to hospital and the last thing you want is to be rooting around in your knicker drawer in that scenario.
Secondly, it’s just a good idea to have everything in one place where the midwives can find it easily.
How much am I allowed to pack in my hospital bag?
Given that it's all a bit of a guessing game (and you're likely to get some raised eyebrows from the midwives if you turn up with 'excess baggage'), you don't want to go overladen.
Firstly, remember you are going to hospital, not the Gobi desert – there will be some things already there that you are perfectly entitled (and probably expected) to use. Some hospitals will give you nappies, for example, while others don't. These are the sort of things you need to check in advance.
Secondly, and this is something many mums-to-be forget: the shops do not shut forever on the day you give birth. If you find you wish you had brought more vest tops or an extra hat for your baby, your partner, mother or some other reliable soul can simply go out and buy it for you. People love to feel useful, so make the most of this.
In short, try to keep it to a minimum.
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Hospital bag packing tips
A few final words of advice from new mums who've been there, done that:
“Around 37wks I started taking the bag to midwife appointments because you just never know - and in my case that paid off. One appointment I had high blood pressure and they asked me to stay in so it was great that I had my pjs and everything all in the car anyway." (Advice from Mumsnet user Kinko)
"A tip I found really helpful from on here was to get some of the bigger zip lock food bags and in each put nappy, vest, baby grow, so that each time I changed baby in hospital I could just grab one.. It took up a lot less space in bag too." (Words of wisdom from Mumsnetter BakewellGin1)
"The other biggie is bring your own paracetamol and ibuprofen. Midwives are on their knees, there's a huge staffing crisis in midwifery at the moment and more are going off sick with the new variant. You don't want to be sat on a ward waiting hours for pain relief. Take your own but make 100% sure to let them know what you've taken and when." (Advice from Mumsnetter stmw123)