Updated: Sep 14
And what to pack for baby, to leave at home, and more!
Packing for the hospital is on every mama’s before-baby-comes to-do list. But what to pack can be overwhelming. Usually, I’m that one who takes hours to pack before a trip so when my daughter was born in 2020, I remember researching and Googling everything to (try to) prepare myself for what to expect, and what I needed, and frantically trying to prepare myself on how to take care of a little human.
WHEN SHOULD THE HOSPITAL BAG BE PACKED?
This really depends on your personality. My hospital bag was packed at 34 or 36 weeks – the first time. I knew I was being induced in week 39 so the weekend before my induction date, I had unpacked and packed it again. If you want to purchase anything in advance, I recommend not waiting. Plus, baby doesn’t always wait until the due date so why not be prepared?
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL ITEMS TO INCLUDE IN A HOSPITAL BAG?
Honestly, you don’t need much. The hospital has almost everything you need. While this list covers everything mom needs – don’t forget about your partner or person. If they are staying, they’ll also need a go-to bag ready to go!
This is my ultimate hospital bag essential checklist:
Below you’ll find details on products tips, must-haves, nice-but-optional things, things you do not need to bring but are good to have at home ready for you, baby's hospital bag, and things they don't tell you, and more.
1) The basics like any important documents such as your insurance card and photo ID.
2) Your birthing plan if you have one prepared, but while it is good to have a plan, births rarely, if ever, go to plan.
3) Technology and entertainment:
a. Your phone and charger
b. Camera- bring extra charger/battery and film (film? What’s that?)
c. Chargers for anything electronic
d. Music, books, stuff to entertain yourself should labor progress slowly
4) Snacks – Hospital food gets old fast and so does having your partner running out to the vending machine or cafeteria. There is room service but it’s helpful to have some favorite snacks on hand, for L&D AND recovery!
5) Toiletries: toothbrush & toothpaste, hair ties, shampoo/conditioner, hair brush, face wash, deodorant
6) Comfortable clothes:
a. For during your hospital stay: I stayed in my hospital gown because I didn’t want to get my blood on my clothes or bother dressing. If you think you’ll have visitors, consider high-waisted loose, stretchy pants. Something easy to slip on like this adorable button down pajamas set and/or a robe for walking the halls.
b. A going home outfit – I’ll be honest, I thought I needed Instagram worthy take-home outfits for both my daughter and me to match, a cute robe and all the things. When the time came, that was the last thing on my mind. If that’s your jam, great! I personally chose comfort and opted for a clean flowy, loose dress. Maternity stretchy pants will be your staple for a while. In case you haven’t heard, you won’t have a flat belly when you leave the hospital. Your belly will look about 6 months pregnant so don’t plan to wear your old pre-pregnancy clothes (especially jeans, oh god no!)
7) Comfy socks and slippers, preferably hard bottom slippers. You’ll be going to the bathroom and barefoot is just gross and socks may get dirty/wet/bloodied and hospitals can be cold!
8) Cheap Flip Flops- you’ll want these for your hospital showers. Trust me.
9) Nursing Bras:
a. Nursing bra (or 2) to wear at night. A soft cozy sleep bra is great for support for swelling breasts (and once you are home to keep your nipple pads in place)
b. Nursing & Pumping Bra or Nursing & Pumping Tank– The last thing you’ll want is a push-up bra or underwire. While your milk doesn’t come in for a few days, you’ll likely be encouraged to pump to stimulate production and capture the colostrum. Having a bra like this to allow you to be hands-free is helpful.
10) An Extra EMPTY Duffle/Suitcase- If you don’t take anything else from this list, take this! This is truly my number one tip! Be prepared to stock it with everything and anything for you and baby! Once something comes in your room, the hospital cannot reuse it for another mama. So take all the baby diapers and mama diapers, baby wipes, pads and perineal wash bottles you can!
What my hospital provided: mesh underwear, maxi pads, plastic sitz tub to soak your bottom, numbing spray (upon request), belly compression band (upon request – usually for C sections), witch hazel pads, perineal wash bottle, ice packs – Take it all home!
WHAT ARE THE NICE BUT OPTIONAL ITEMS TO INCLUDE IN A HOSPITAL BAG?
Pillow - I don’t think my hospital’s pillows were bad but every place is different. If you do, bring a patterned pillowcase so it isn’t mistaken for a white hospital pillow. You may also want to consider bringing one for your partner. The hospital may not have extras.
Towel – If you have sensitive skin or are an average sized woman, you may consider this one because they are teeeeeennny tiiiiiiiinnnnny and not soft. I made do with what they had. Again, I didn’t want blood on my towels.
Cute matching pajamas for you. Okay, hear me out. You will bleed. A lot. Your boobs may leak. Postpartum isn’t pretty! I didn’t want to spend money on pajamas that I’d bleed all over. The hospital gown was fine. You just had a baby so if wearing cute pajamas makes you feel better, go for it! YOU DO YOU!
Felt letterboard for birth info
Comfortable Robe– We didn’t have visitors (thanks COVID) but you may get chilly or want something cute to throw on over your hospital gown if you have visitors.
Makeup – I didn’t even open my makeup bag until the morning we were leaving
Song playlist – My hubby created a birth playlist (I have no idea if he ever turned it on during the actual delivery) with funny songs about sex/birth/moms etc.
Lastly, a bonus tip for you! In the weeks prior to your due date leave a puppy pee pad or trash bag in the car just in case your water breaks. Mine broke at home and it was nice not having to worry if I was leaking on the car seat!
WHAT ITEMS DO YOU NOT NEED TO BRING TO THE HOSPITAL BUT ARE GOOD TO HAVE AT HOME READY FOR YOU?
Aside from the basics like bottles, pacifiers, and a safe sleep space here are some things you may not have considered:
Loose underwear aka adult diapers–The hospital will provide you with some big totally not sexy underwear. you can wear a hospital ‘mommy diaper’ at home. They aren’t so soft but free is great! You just pushed a baby out of your vagina or had a c-section so you won’t want regular underwear. Trust me. You won’t need your old underwear for a few weeks. I lived in these Always Boutique adult diapers during recovery.
Baby diapers – you don’t know what size baby will be so I recommend a small box of newborn and size 1 and then stock up once you’re home and know how big or small your baby once you are home. We tried tons of brands and like Pampers the best!
Baby wipes – We tried tons of varieties. My favorite is Pampers Aqua Pure
Nursing-friendly pajamas -easy to pull aside for nursing or pumping.
It’s awkward when you wake up soaked after the milk comes in so be prepared with a comfortable nursing bra that can help keep nipple pads in place.
Your medications: The hospital will not allow you to take medication they have not given you.
Breast Pump – I loved Spectra 1 – it is quiet, light, and portable and lasts a long time on a battery. The hospital has hospital-grade pumps so you do not need to bring your own.
For more items I recommend having ready at home check out my Must Have List for Baby
WHAT ITEMS SHOULD YOU PACK FOR BABY IN YOUR HOSPITAL BAG?
Diaper bag- I wanted a cute fashionable diaper bag. I went with a backpack style and it was perfect. I still use it to this day.
Pretty things for baby photos. A bow, newborn outfit for baby (birth announcement?)
Swaddle –Swaddling is hard! You can use a 44 inch Muslin blanket OR a Velcro swaddle. There are lots to choose from, I love Swaddleme Swaddles. NOTE – In terms of safe sleep: the swaddle is cute for a photo but not safe to wear in the carseat. Same goes for a hat - once you leave the hospital baby no longer needs one. For more on safe sleep watch this video.
Going Home Outfit For Baby– They’ll give baby something to wear while in the hospital but you’ll want an outfit to bring baby home in. This is tricky because you don’t really know how big baby will be until they are born. Will baby fit in a newborn size? Already need to size up? I packed a few options of styles and sizes. Consider the season and dress baby in one more layer than you wear. I highly recommend a kimono style onesie. They are the easiest to put on baby as they wrap around instead of going over their head. And let's face it, putting a shirt over baby’s head for the first time is TERRIFYING and a kimono is loose on their belly so it won’t rub on the umbilical cord. We wore kimonos until the cord fell out and healed.
Car Seat – you cannot leave the hospital without a car seat! I recommend installing it and checking Safe in the Seat a few weeks before your due date. You’ll want the car seat secure and setup and ready to go so you can just leave when you are discharged. You won’t want to futz with the car seat the first time upon leaving with a newborn now in your arms.
WHAT WILL MOM NEED FOR HEALING?
Frida Mom Upside Peri Bottle –This is a must-have to help heal and prevent infection. The hospital will give you one, I recommend taking extras if you can and having one peri bottle in each bathroom so you don’t have to do stairs just to get to the bathroom with the bottle! This provides a gentle stream of (warm, not hot) water that helps heal and clean. Use this instead of toilet paper. TIP: If you had a vaginal delivery: Bend forward when you pee so that pee doesn’t drip on your healing parts. Urine may sting or burn so leaning may help urine drip toward the front.
Always Boutique adult diapers
Stool softener: that first poop post-birth can be terrifying. Loosen things up to make going, easier.
Nipple cream: Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream
Giant water bottle – Drink more water than you think necessary. This is essential for rehydrating post-delivery and flushing out all your retained waterweight and swelling. It is also critical to stay hydrated to be able to start/keep a supply for breastfeeding. My husband bought this Iron Flask Bottle for me because I hated constantly refilling the smaller bottles. I still use it!
Things they don’t tell you:
Your milk won’t come in right away. It’s called colostrum and your milk may not come in until after you’re home or several days later. I believe fed is best. I wish someone had told me to give formula until my milk came in so we could have avoided the NICU jaundice experience. I would offer your breast to teach baby to latch while also pumping to get your supply going.
Your first poop will be terrifying. You just delivered a watermelon, anything near the site is off-limits! See above with a stool softener...
Sometimes your water breaks. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the doctor has to break it. For me, I was in bed, thought I had to pee and then it just felt different than pee and kept going for a while. It was more of a drip...drip…drip. It was not usually a gush like Hollywood portrays.
Swelling is normal. Newborns are often born with swollen features. Looking back at photos can reveal just how much your little one has transformed in just a short amount of time.
The truth is this part is rarely talked about. Being a new mom is an incredible yet painful and challenging experience. Your body has gone through so much the last 9 months, then during labor and delivery, and throughout recovery. It isn’t easy but it is quite miraculous. Sometimes it is important to remind yourself about all that your body went through to birth (vaginal or c-section!) a child. Give yourself grace and patience.
The one thing you can't literally pack but can prepare for is how to help your baby sleep! Sleep is critical for mom's recovery and baby's growth. While sleep is natural it is also a learned skill so help make the first few months easier on yourself by learning how to help baby get the sleep they need! Add my Ultimate Guide to Newborn Sleep - Thrive Don't Just Survive! to your packing list!
Now, let’s get packing! Time to get your hospital bag ready Mamas! What items were on your hospital bag checklist that you could not live without in the hospital?
If whatever is happening is no longer working and you need to make a change, let’s create a custom plan together for your little one. My one-on-one support will help make sleep easy. Schedule your FREE 15-minute Sleep Assessment Call today.
Caryn Shender | Certified Pediatric Sleep Specialist and Coach | Founder of Sleep Tight Tonight
I am a proud mom, certified pediatric sleep specialist and coach, safe sleep ambassador, and author of My Scar is Beautiful. I am passionate about and committed to helping families turn sleepless nights into easy, peaceful nights and sweet dreams. Being a parent is hard. Being an exhausted parent is next to impossible. Together, we’ll make sleep easy.