Woman packing a bag with baby clothes and nappies

What to put in your hospital bag

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…

When should I pack my hospital bag?

Pack your bag four to six weeks before your due date and use the checklists below to help you get the essentials together and ensure nothing is forgotten on the day.

Hospital bag essentials checklist:

It helps to break this down and think of packing in three categories: 'stuff for labour and birth', 'stuff for after' and 'stuff for the baby'. Your birth partner should also pack a bag. Delivery suites are often short on space so you can always leave your bag of stuff to take to the postnatal ward in the car and send your birth partner out for it after you've given birth.

What to pack in your hospital bag for labour and birth:

  • Your birth plan
  • Your maternity notes
  • An old nightdress or T-shirt to give birth in
  • TENS machine, if you're using one
  • Anything you might want to help you during labour, eg birth ball, music or hypnobirthing CDs, essential oils, massage lotion, spray bottle to spritz your face
  • Bottle of water with a 'sports bottle' type lid so you can sip it lying down
  • Snacks (you could be there a while). Cereal bars and other individually wrapped items are good. The last thing you want is a jam sandwich squished between your PJs. 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. Dextrose tablets and isotonic drinks are also good for a short, sharp burst of energy
  • Lip balm for dry lips if you're using gas and air
  • Hair clips or bands to keep your hair out of your sweaty face
  • Flip flops and a dressing gown in case you don't have an ensuite loo in the labour room and need to pop out
  • 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 if you want it and the hospital are ok with it
  • A small stock of maternity pads, basic toiletries, a towel, 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)

What to pack in your hospital bag for after the baby's born

Clothes for newborn baby in hospital
  • Another nightie to wear if you stay in (front opening is best if you are intending to breastfeed – try to remember to do it up again before you pop to the hospital shop)
  • Your own pillow for a slice of home in case you have to stay in
  • Maternity pads, breastpads, and nursing bras
  • 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
  • Loads of 'old' knickers. Some people opt for disposable paper ones but take it from us, unless you like rustling when you sit down, do yourself a favour and sacrifice a few trusty 'big' pairs to your first post-birth days
  • Toiletries and make-up
  • Hairbrush
  • Phone and charger
  • Headphones so you can block out the noise of the postnatal ward with some music
  • An eye mask and ear plugs to help you sleep
  • A camera if you don't have one on your phone
  • Plastic bag to put dirty clothes in
  • Pen and notelets to get a head start on the birth announcement cards (just kidding)

What to pack in your hospital bag for your baby

  • Nappies, wipes, nappy sacks
  • Muslin squares
  • Bodysuits and baby vests (three of each – just in case)
  • Baby blanket
  • A baby hat to keep them warm
  • Scratch mitts
  • Socks or booties
  • Bottles, milk and anything else you need if you know you will be bottlefeeding
  • While you're shopping for your newborn essentials, buy the baby an outfit for the trip home (an all-in one is best)
  • Jacket
  • Car seat

What does my birth partner need to pack for labour?

  • A comfortable outfit and pair of 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 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 change 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.

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:

  • Your birth plan. Obviously this will look a little different from a birth plan including labour 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
  • Hospital notes
  • 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.

How much am I allowed to pack in my hospital bag?

Woman holding newborn baby in hospital 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, 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 FOR EVER 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.

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.

Hospital bag packing tips

Mumsnetters who have been there, done that and got the stitches share their recommendations for items to include in your hospital bag:

“A hairbrush for the regulation happy mum and baby photos. I forgot mine and I was gutted. I have long hair and it looked a mess in the photos.”

“A water spray. For dampening you down during hot and sweaty moments during labour.”

“Hot water bottle. For soothing backache during contractions.”

“A dressing gown – in a dark colour. You never know if you have had a leak and you don't want to be traipsing around the ward with a big stain.”

“A book. For dull moments – yes, there might be some. Choose a really simple book because your brain will be fried.”

“Something for your midwife. Because, once she's delivered your baby, she'll be your new best friend. And, if you stay in hospital any length of time, take nice chocolates to offer the staff – it's amazing how much more interested doctors get when they're scoffing.”

“Towels. There were none where I gave birth. And, as I hadn't expected to have my baby at 35 weeks, I hadn't packed very well. I had to dry myself on the blue paper stuff in the labour suite.”

And a few final words of advice:

“Pack only what you think you may need for the first day or so in your labour bags, and leave the rest for you and baby packed in a separate bag for your partner to bring when he visits. Put a whopping great A4 label on it, though, so that no-one grabs it in a hurry when you go into labour and brings the wrong bag in by mistake!”