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?
You should 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. Your birth partner should also pack a bag.
Hospital bag checklist
It helps to break down your packing list in three categories:
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.
The essentials for you and your newborn baby
- 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
- Dressing gown
- Breastpads and nursing bras
- Maternity pads and 'old' knickers
- Clean sleepwear if you're staying in overnight
- Baby clothes
- Nappies and wipes
- Phone and charger
- Clothes to go home in
- Car seat
What to pack in your hospital bag for labour and birth
As well as your birth plan, don't forget anything you might want to help you during labour, eg:
- Birth ball A hot water bottle is good for soothing backache during contractions.
- Music or hypnobirthing CDs
- Essential oils, massage lotion
- Spray bottle to spritz your face during sweaty moments
- TENS machine, if you're using one
- Lip balm for dry lips if you're using gas and air
To make things more comfortable:
- 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.
- Choose 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. 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 (for home comforts) if you want it and the hospital are ok with it
- 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.”
- 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)
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
- Toiletries 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.
- Phone and charger
- A camera if you don't have one on your phone
- Plastic bag to put dirty clothes in
- 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 notelets to get a head start on the birth announcement cards (just kidding)
And don't forget: “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.”
What to pack in your hospital bag for your baby
- Nappies and nappy sacks
- Baby wipes
- Muslin squares
- Bodysuits and baby vests (three of each – just in case)
- 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
- 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 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.
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:
- 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.
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 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.
Hospital bag packing tips
A few final words of advice from new mums who've been there, done that:
“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 the wrong one in a hurry when you go into labour and brings a bag full of baby stuff in by mistake!”