Babies are unpredictable and whether you're planning on giving birth at home or in the hospital, you can't really predict the timing of your delivery (unless you're having a C-section that's been planned ahead of time).
The truth is, only around 4% of babies born in the US are born on their due date, so it's important to be prepared by having your hospital ready to go. One thing you can do to make sure you're well and truly prepared is pack a well-stocked hospital bag - or bags plural! You and your birth partner may want a bag each, plus one for the baby!
So, if you're wondering where to start with prepping your hospital bag and feeling a little overwhelmed, don't stress, we're here to help with a comprehensive hospital bag checklist to ensure nothing's forgotten.
When should you start to pack your hospital bag?
You can start shopping for new baby essentials any time, but don't start worrying about packing your hospital bag in your first and second trimesters. You'll probably just end up taking everything out and re-packing again and again!
As you head into the third trimester, you should aim to have everything packed up by the 35 or 36-week mark, just in case your new arrival decides to pop out a little early!
That way, you'll have plenty of time to pick out your favorite PJs and slippers, as well as get yourself some special treats for the big day!
When your bag is packed, just keep it by the door so it's ready to go.
Hospital bag checklist: What to pack for mom?
Here are some key things to remember before we get started...
- Even if you're planning a home birth, you'll still want to pack a hospital bag and have the essentials ready to go - just in case!
- If you think you might not need it, you're probably wrong, just pack it anyway to be safe.
- Trust no one - check your bag yourself before you go, after all, you know what you need more than anyone else!
For before the baby arrives
- Paperwork: You'll need to pack your medical notes, a few copies of your birth plan (if you've written one) your Photo ID, and insurance details. Some people find that using clear plastic wallets to keep everything separate and labeled makes things easier to find.
- Drinks: You and your birthing partner are bound to feel very thirsty during and after labor, so as well as keeping hydrated with small and frequent sips of water, bringing along some of your favorite flavored drinks will help you stay hydrated and energized.
- A fan or water spray: These can help you feel cooler, after all, labor is hard work and hospitals tend to be hot.
- High-energy snacks: A couple of packets of crisps won't cut it! You'll need a plethora of your favorite foods to get you through labor. Eating lots of small meals frequently can give you an energy boost and keep your momentum going. Nuts and raisins, boiled sweets, sandwiches, flapjacks, and fruits such as bananas are ideal!
- A cool, loose-fitting nightie or T-shirt for labor: You're going to be bringing life into the world, so now more than ever you deserve to be as comfortable as possible! A loose-fitting outfit also makes it easy for your midwife to check how your labor is progressing.
For once the baby is born
- Maternity pads and disposable maternity briefs: You can buy pads and disposable briefs that are specially developed for use in the days following the birth of your baby. Look for extra-long, thick pads with an absorbent core for maximum comfort and protection.
- A few pairs of comfy, high-coverage underwear: Trust us, big cotton knickers are a hospital bag essential!
- Breast pads and nipple cream: To absorb any leaks and keep your boobs comfortable.
- A nursing bra and some front-opening nighties or pajama tops: These are perfect for when you're breastfeeding.
- A lightweight dressing gown: One that's not too bulky but will still keep you warm.
- Slippers or flip flops: Pack some shoes with a grippy sole and that slip on and off easily. You don't want to be bending down to tie laces!
- A comfortable, maternity-sized outfit to go home in: Go for something loose-fitting that's easy to pull on and off.
- Your favorite deodorant, shampoo, shower gel, cleanser, and moisturizer: Perfect for your first post-labor shower and a freshen-up to help you feel like yourself.
- Toothpaste and toothbrush: To keep you feeling minty fresh.
- A face flannel and a soft towel: These will help you feel a little fresher post-birth.
- A hairbrush, comb, hair clips, and ties: You'll want these to keep your hair under control and out of your face.
- A water bottle: Try to find one with a straw that's easy to drink from.
- A camera or mobile phone plus charger: It's the job of your birth partner to snap at least 200 photos of your new perfect baby so you can remember their arrival for years to come, so they best bring their phone or camera, and keep it fully charged!
Optional extras for the hospital bag
- Makeup: If that's your thing, go for it!
- Some lip balm or salve: To keep your lips comfortable and hydrated.
- A comfortable pillow: Whether it's a pregnancy pillow or a normal one, your very own pillow might be the perfect thing to keep you relaxed throughout labor.
- Heat packs or a hot water bottle: These can really help to soothe aches and pains and can also help to relieve sore muscles after birth.
- An eye mask and ear plugs: Hospitals are noisy places that are on the go 24/7, so an eye mask and ear plugs may come in useful.
- A birthing playlist: This is your chance to set the scene and compile the perfect playlist of songs and sounds to keep you calm, motivated, and in the zone during labor.
- Headphones or a portable speaker: So that you can listen to your perfectly curated playlist!
- Books, magazines, podcasts, and a tablet or iPad if you have one: These will help keep you and your birthing partner entertained and calm during the early stages of labor.
- Essential oils and cotton pads: Soothing scents can be a great tool during labor and delivery. Peppermint can help with nausea, lavender is calming, and citrus will wake you up. It's good to note that strong smells can become overwhelming, so instead of using a diffuser, just pop a few drops of the oil on a cotton pad and use as needed.
It's important to note that different hospitals and birthing units across the country will provide different things for moms, such as disposable underwear and pads, so it's best to check with your chosen provider to know what you can expect to get.
What to pack in your hospital bag for baby
When it comes to packing for your new arrival, it's best to pack too much rather than too little just in case there are complications and you need to stay in the hospital for longer than expected.
Be sure to check the following new-baby bits and bobs off as you pack your hospital bag list.
- Newborn bodysuits or vests (preferably cotton)
- Newborn sleep suits (including one to go home in)
- A soft hat to keep them warm
- Scratch mittens
- Newborn socks or booties
- Newborn diapers
- Baby wipes
- Cotton wool balls or pads
- Soft blankets
- Muslin cloths and some bibs
- A soft baby towel
- Colostrum, if you have stored this ahead of time be sure to check if your chosen medical facility can store this correctly
- A coming-home outfit
Hospital bag checklist for multiples
If you're expecting multiple babies, make sure that you pack double (or more) of any baby essentials that you'd like to take into the hospital.
Hospital bag checklist for birthing partners
The last thing you want during labor is to worry about the comfort of your birthing partner. While a birthing partner needs to engage and support in the labor, it is a long process, and they need to be prepared. Although they may not be the one giving birth, it's still important for birthing partners to be prepared too!
They can pack their own bag containing things like:
- a comfortable change of clothes
- a toiletry bag
- some cash for vending machines and car parking meters
- a list of people to contact with your baby news and send newborn photos
- something to keep them entertained if their partner is sleeping or wants to be left alone
- their own snacks and drinks
- an extra phone charger
- a small pillow and a light blanket
What type of bag is best for a hospital bag?
Which type of bag you choose to take to the hospital is down to personal preference. Some people like to use packing pods to be extra organized, while others opt for a more throw-in-and-go method. Let's run through the different options.
A small wheelie suitcase
Easier to maneuver through the hospital corridors and ideal if you're having a C-section.
A changing bag
Why not start making use of your changing bag and all its practical pockets before the baby even arrives.
A large open-top holdall bag
Lots of room, great if you've organized everything into separate containers.
These are easy to carry. A large, roomy one with plenty of pockets might work well for you!
A humble reusable bag
There's nothing wrong with re-using carrier bags to hold your birthing bits and bobs.
Lock in the baby's car seat
It's important that your car seat fits your car and is suitable for a newborn because if your baby is born in the hospital, you'll need it to drive them home safely. You should practice fitting the seat before your baby arrives.
If you're getting a taxi home, make sure that you know how to fit the car seat yourself. You might want to opt for a carry car seat as opposed to a car seat that's left in the car, so you can carry your little one out of the hospital and straight home without disturbing them.
Baby bag preparation for home births
It's good to prepare for a homebirth by talking to your midwife or doula, and even if you're planning on delivering your baby at home, it's always a good idea to have a hospital bag ready just in case. That way, you know everything you need is in one place and it's there if you do need to go to the hospital unexpectedly.
What else should I prepare for baby's arrival?
When you and baby get home, you'll probably be too tired to do much cooking, cleaning, or shopping.
So, it can be a good idea to spend some time during your last trimester making your life easier by:
- prepping and storing freezer-friendly meals
- washing all your little one's clothes, bedding, and bibs
- setting up automatic bill payments and grocery/prescription deliveries
- organizing childcare for any other children or pets while you're in the hospital
What shouldn't I pack in my hospital bag?
While it's important to know what to take with you, it's easy to get carried away and overpack, and there are some things you shouldn't take in your hospital bag. Things to leave at home include:
- Valuables: If you're rushed to theatre you won't always be with your items so it's best to leave any valuables at home.
- Too many baby clothes: Could only be in hospital for a couple of days. Add extra to your overflow bag for peace of mind.
- Too many diapers: These are pretty bulky to carry and your hospital is likely to provide extras if you need them (but double-check, just to be sure).