By the time you enter your third trimester, your thoughts will probably be starting to turn toward what comes next: actually having the baby! It’s a topic that preoccupies most pregnant women at some point – we tend to spend a lot of time mulling over the specifics of birth plans, considering the various merits of exercise balls and birth pools, and trying to decide when it’s okay to yell for an epidural. (Hint: If you feel the need, then it’s pretty much automatically okay.)
We also tend to read lots of articles like this one, all about how to pack for what’s likely to be the most life-changing trip you’ll ever take. (No pressure!) The trick is to make sure you have what you definitely will need, and leave out what you probably will never use. And to make sure we’ve given you the best advice, we’ve asked a few dozen experienced mums to help us out, based on their own experience. Because when you need to know the honest truth, who else would you ask but a mother?
Here is our panel’s hand-picked list of top things to pack in your hospital bag:
- Baby clothes, and a warm baby blanket. You’ll almost certainly need more teeny-weeny outfits, hats and nappies than you think – newborns can be messy little mites, and you’ll still be figuring out the art of the nappy change and the post-feed spit-up. Aim for at least 4-6 sleepsuits/babygrows, a couple of hats, plus muslins, baby wipes, nappy disposal sacks and a pack of newborn nappies (unless your hospital provides them; it’s worth checking, as they take up a lot of room!) You may also want to bring a couple of onesies that are bigger and smaller than you think you’ll need, just in case.
- A nightshirt or nightgown for you. No, we don’t mean anything frilly – more like your oldest, softest, most comforting bit of nightwear. The one you reach for when you’re coming down with something and just want to feel cosy. Believe us, it’ll come in handy. You may also want to throw in a pajama top or nightdress that opens at the front if you’re planning to breastfeed.
- Several pairs of knickers and socks. The same rationale goes here – you want to pack the large, comfy granny undies, preferably some old enough that you won’t mind if you need to chuck them in the bin afterwards (or go for the disposable kind). Warm socks can be your best friend if you end up walking the halls to get your labour going.
- A hand-held, battery-powered fan. This might sound like an unnecessary luxury, but many of our mums said it turned out to be the best thing in their bag, especially during the hard work of pushing.
“Take a hand held mini fan and extra batteries for your birthing partner to hold near you - a must for keeping cool when pushing ...My daughter said it was the best item I bought for her bag.”
- Maternity pads – lots of ‘em. The birth may be over in a matter of hours, but your body is going to take some time to recover – and parts of that can get a bit messy. In the first few weeks postpartum, you’ll have what’s known as lochia – which is basically your hard-working uterus tidying up after the big job of giving birth. It’s like a very heavy period, and normal pads just won’t cut it – trust us. (Tampons are also a no-go at this time; not only will you not want to use one, it’s not a good idea while your uterus is healing.)
- Toiletries. It may well be the last thing on your mind during labour, but before long, you’re really, really going to want to have a shower. Pack as you would for a long weekend away: shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, deodorant, hairbrush, toothbrush/toothpaste, plus any regular medications you’ll need. If your hair is long, a few hair bobbles could be a real lifesaver, and many mums find lip salve and nipple cream are a must.
“Vaseline is great for around your stitches if you have an episiotomy, and it also works wonders for getting sticky meconium off your baby’s bum!”
- Mobile phone charger. If you’re like us, you’ll probably remember to bring your phone, but you’ll need the charger, too. (Your relatives will never forgive you if your battery runs out before they get a picture of the new arrival!) Don’t forget to program in the numbers of the maternity unit, your midwife, and anyone you’ll want to ring after the baby is born.
- Clothes to go home in. You probably won’t need to plan this for fashion photo-ops, à la Kate Middleton, but you’ll want a clean, comfortable outfit to go home in. Pick something you wore at around 6 months pregnant to make sure it’s roomy enough – your abs won’t be back to their pre-baby shape for a while yet. You’ll also need a maternity or nursing bra, and probably some nursing pads (even if you’re not planning to breastfeed, they’ll come in handy for containing leaks).
- Paperwork. Print a couple of copies of your birth plan, if you have one, so your midwife and attending nurse can keep it handy. (We have a handy template you can use!) You may also want to print a copy or two of a feeding chart template (Mummypages.co.uk have a nice, simple breastfeeding tracker and input-output chart to download, or you can use an app on your phone). This may seem like a bit of a faff now, but when you’re sleep-deprived, having a written record is a wonderful thing!
“Don’t forget your maternity notes!! I left mine at home – my husband had to go back for them and almost missed the birth!”
- Treats, and/or change to buy them with. Don’t underestimate the value of a bar of chocolate or a packet of your favourite salty snacks, especially if it’s 3am, you’re desperate for an energy hit, and everything in the hospital is closed. A sports drink can also be useful for quick energy, especially if your midwife doesn’t want you to eat in the second stage of labour.
“I packed three bags: one each for me, my husband and the baby. My husband's bag was such a good idea - I put in snacks, drinks, a fan, magazines, and paracetamol in case of headaches due to the hot wards! Plus a change of clothes for everyone, toothbrush, etc. I was in labour for 3 days, so we both used lots of the hospital bag stuff!”
- A towel – preferably a black one. This is an item that’s all too easy to forget, but you may well not be given one in the hospital. A dark colour is best, as bleeding is a fact of life in the postpartum period (see lochia, above).
Phew, looks like a lot, doesn’t it? Never fear, we’ve also come up with a few items you can probably leave out if you need to save space. Our expert panel of mums found these were the most likely to languish unused in the bottom of the hospital bag:
- Massage oil. A lovely massage during labour with some lavender-scented oil just sounds so nice, doesn’t it? Only problem is, it almost never happens – so unless your partner is a massage therapist (in which case, we’re officially jealous!) you can probably leave this out.
- A breast pump. Ask your hospital if you’re unsure about this one, but in our experience, they’re bulky to bring along, and your midwife can usually get you one in hospital if you need it.
- A dressing gown. You’ll see this on a lot of “must-have” lists, and it’s certainly up to you – but in our mums’ experience, they take up a lot of room, and you’re more likely to be too hot than too cold. A nice soft cardigan is less bulky, and more versatile.
- Motivational CDs. Again, totally up to you – they don’t weigh much, so you may want to bring them for moral support if nothing else. But our mums found they didn’t get much use on the big day.
It’s a good idea to get all this sorted at least a few weeks before you’re due (whether or not you’re planning on a hospital birth – remember, things don’t always go to plan!) If it’s looking like way too much to lug in whilst you’re in labour, you can divide it between a “labour bag” to bring in first thing, and a “post-delivery bag” to keep in the car and send your partner or a helper out for later on. Oh, and if you’re driving, don’t forget to install the car seat well in advance!
Do you agree with our panel of mums? What was your can’t-do-without item during labour? Or the thing you brought but never used? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter (#HiPPlabouressentials) or Facebook!