***Warning: in this long post, I acknowledge that childbirth (and the aftermath) isn’t necessarily glamorous, comfortable, or tidy. I also specifically mention items like nursing pads, Depends, and mesh underwear. Read at your own discretion.***
With so many friends currently “in the family way,” I’ve been reminded just how many “hospital bag checklists” and other baby gear lists exist in the blogosphere. The intent is heartfelt: advising soon-to-be moms of all the necessary accouterments that will make their hospital stays more pleasant. However, I’ve noticed that many of these posts (especially those written before the arrival of the author’s child), tend to be a little heavy on the precious and a little light on the practical. As an unsolicited public service, I’d like to offer my take on what a new mom might actually need (and want) when the time comes. I’ll preface my list by saying that I pack light for travel and can’t stand clutter, so my list might be a bit more Spartan than some. Feel free to use, abuse, or adapt to fit your own needs.
For baby (packed in diaper bag, then packed in your bag):
- Snap tees (1-2/anticipated day of stay plus an extra)
- 1-2 sleeping gowns (if desired)
- 1-2 pacifiers (if desired)
- Seasonally-appropriate blanket (for photos, trip home)
- Going home outfit conducive to car seat straps
- Rear-facing infant or convertible car seat (left in car, installation checked before hospital departure and/or at local firehouse prior to labor)
Here’s the thing about newborn stuff: it’s tiny, as are they. Most hospitals will gladly provide a pacifier or two upon request if you want to use one, and the little snap tee shirts (not onesies—remember that umbilical cord stump) take up about three square inches of real estate in your bag. My hospital provided several of these tees; it might be worth asking if yours does as well. We ended up not needing the few we brought, but they took up so little room, I didn’t mind.
In the hospital, Henry wore snap tees and a diaper most of the time. Because he spent so much time sleeping, he was nearly always swaddled (in the hospital’s receiving blankets, which were perfectly sized for the purpose). Getting born, it seems, wears a baby out. Because he was swaddled, he didn’t really need pants (plus, I worried the waistband might irritate his umbilical stump). I learned to swaddle by watching the post partum nurses, so I just chose to work with the same materials they used.
Henry slept (very, very well) swaddled until he was old enough to roll, and for all of those months, my favorite swaddling blankets remained the flannels we took home with us from the hospital. When you’re back at home, inexpensive Carter’s flannel and pricier Aden and Anais muslin also work well. Swaddle sacks (here or here) were great when he was a little bigger, but I couldn’t swaddle him tightly enough in them when he was just born. Not sure about swaddling? Consider bringing a couple of sleeping gowns with open bottoms. You’ll want fast, easy diaper changes. (Later, you’ll select zip-up PJ’s over snap-up for the same reason. No one likes fumbling with snaps in the dark.)
You could bring a hat or two, but the knit cap the hospital provided stretched well and fit Henry’s average-sized noggin better than many of the others I had. If you do bring one, hand knit yarn might work better than machine knit cotton in the early months because the larger stitches stretch to fit. I used the hospital cap at home for a long time afterward, even when more attractive hats were introduced to the rotation. It stayed put on his head– more than I could say for some.
If you’d like a pretty blanket to lay over baby in her bassinet, go for it, but know she likely won’t need it. Instead, think of what will cover her (clothes, blanket) on the trip home. What will the weather be like? What will work well with your car seat?
The hospital will give you more diapers and wipes (or wet cloths) than you could possibly imagine while you’re there; you won’t need to bring any of your own.
- 2 pair of comfortable, loose-waisted PJs with necklines conducive to nursing (if that’s the plan)
- Two nursing bras with reusable pads (I recommend Bamboobies) OR
- Two tight sports bras with disposable pads if you intend to formula feed exclusively
- One attractive-but-comfortable outfit for going home and in-hospital newborn photos (if you intend to have these taken)
- Special jewelry (if desired)
To be honest, I remained in the hospital gown for most of my two-night post partum stay because it was easier to deal with (and because sitting up in bed was uncomfortable). Pulling pants on and off every time the doctor comes in or one needs to use the restroom is unpleasant and impractical. Eventually, though, I did shower and put on PJs because I wanted to feel like a human being.
The robe is an absolute must. Hospital gowns are open in the back, so a lady will want a little modesty when up and about. You’ll definitely want slippers on the cold floor, too. On the loose PJ front: you’ll want things comfortable. Even an uncomplicated birth leaves a person feeling a bit tender, so clothing that’s in any way constricting or irritating shouldn’t make the cut. You’ll want things roomy in these early days because you’ll value comfort over style and because, unfortunately, you’ll still look four or five months pregnant (albeit softer in the middle). If you’re going the PJ pant route, do bring two pair. Also, don’t expect either pair to survive your stay without permanent damage. (Target is your friend on this front.) For nursing bras, I preferred cotton, cross-front styles with no clasps and reusable nursing pads. Buy half a dozen pair of Bamboobies; they’re softer and more absorbent than the disposable pads, and they machine wash well.
I’ve read some packing lists that suggest bringing boy shorts or other granny panties and eschewing the mesh underwear the hospital provides. I did not. Cheap underwear—no matter how large it is—is uncomfortable. The fabric is rough, and the elastic is binding, and I didn’t want anything that felt uncomfortable. Mesh undies aren’t cute, but they’ll be in ample supply, they’re comfortable, they’re thin (no VPL), they’re disposable, and, in my view, they’re a no brainer. I wore mesh underwear home from the hospital. Really, who cares if they’re hideous? You’re likely not going to feel like a model when you’re body is recovering and you’re sleep deprived, and no one’s going to see your undies, anyway.
Mom’s toiletry bag:
- Regular make-up and personal care items (in travel-sized containers when possible)
- Hair ties (3-4)
- Headbands (2)
- Glasses and/or contacts, case, and solution
- Gum or mints
- Anti-bacterial hand gel
- Lip balm
- Nursing salve or balm
You won’t need pads at the hospital; the ones they’ll give you will be bigger, better, and more absorbent than anything you can buy. Leave your own pads at home, and bring as many of the hospital’s pads home with you as possible. Depends are a good all-in-one alternative, and you might find them more comfortable and easier to deal with in the early days, too.
You won’t need Advil, stool softener, witch hazel, spray bottles or any other medical odds and ends. You are, after all, in a hospital. Ring the call button or wait for rounds; your nurse will be happy to supply whatever you need (including a peri bottle, which will probably be your best friend). You likely won’t even have to ask.
Other Mom Essentials:
- Compact digital camera (and charger)
- Tablet (and charger)
- Cell phone (and charger)
Could you bring the DSLR? Sure. Do you need to if you have a compact, high-res alternative? No. Save the space, and spring for the in-hospital professional pics (if they’re offered), or have newborn photos taken in the week or two after birth.
Here are the needs that should be met in this category: phone calls, photos, writing down information, playing music, reading, and recharging. Figure out how to meet these needs in the smallest footprint possible.
- Love your pillow? Bring it.
- Love your husband? Your hospital bed is apt to be more comfortable than his, so bring his pillow and a comfortable blanket.
- Make use of your post partum team. If you intend to pump and have your own, bring it with you (even though it’s bulky). Make sure that a nurse or lactation consultant shows you how to use it. If you don’t bring yours or plan to rent one, make sure the nurses show you how to use one of the hospital’s. In addition to their helpful pointers, you’ll be given lots of free pump bottles and parts, too.
- If you plan to nurse, get help early and often (it’s not always as easy as a natural process might seem). If you plan to formula feed (even once in a while), be honest with your nurse. Don’t take guff about your choice, and ask if they have any starter formula, bottles, and nipples they could send you home with. They may not be what you choose to use in the long run, but, if it’s an avenue you think you might go down, they might be helpful to have on hand.
There you have it. One mom, one baby, and hopefully, one carry-on. Happy baby-having!