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Your Hospital Bag Essentials

Written by Amina Hatia RM
Medically reviewed by Marley Hall BA RM Diphe
This resource covers

Most of us in the third trimester will find some kind of urge to start nesting – planning, preparing and getting everything ready for baby’s arrival.  One of the most common questions we as midwives are asked about is what to pack in the birth centre/hospital bag. 

And it’s a great question – if you’ve never had a baby before, or even if you have – it’s hard to know what you’ll need, what’s a necessity, what’s a luxury and what’s a waste of time.

So read on for our top tips on how to pack your hospital bag.

Be packed and prepared

Have your bags packed and ready to go by the front door at least 3 weeks before your estimated due date (EDD).  Remember labour can be anytime between 37-42 weeks, so having your bags ready in advance will be the lovely peace of mind you need in the last few weeks.

Pack 2 sets of smaller bags instead of a large suitcase.

Whilst it may seem like a good idea to pack everything into one large bag that you may need, in reality it’s much better to pack 2 sets of smaller bags – a labour & birth bag, and then one for the postnatal period.

This means you don’t have to be trudging lots of bags into your birthing space – which can be quite busy already, and you won’t have an explosion of all your carefully packed things when your partner can’t find that pair of socks you packed.

Bring the labour and birth bag in with you and leave the postnatal bag in the car or at home – your birth partner can always bring it in when you need it.

Label things if you can

Our midwife Amina shares the story of a super organised mum-to-be who had packed everything into reusable zip-lock bags.  ‘It was great – she’d labelled it all – such as pants for labour, labour snacks, flannels, clothes for baby if he’s a boy, clothes for baby if she is a girl etc – which meant her partner knew exactly what to grab without having to rummage around or ask her questions. This helps not only to make sure your meticulously packed bag remains so, but also great for staying in the birth zone for mum-to-be by not having to answer questions about what they mean.

Pack what you know you’ll use and know how to use them!

All of us have at some point wondered why we packed certain items for holiday when we’ve never used them before and don’t really want them!  The same can happen with hospital bag packing – you can follow lists online, but they won’t always apply to you. 

Similarly, we see quite a few parents who arrive with items such as TENS machines having never taken them out of the box and uncharged or battery-less!  Have a play around with anything you’ve bought new to make sure you know how it works, it’s ready to go and you know how to use it too.

Pack a bag to send home the laundry

Your labour outfit, your underwear, baby’s clothes after a big nappy change – have something to dump them all into, so that you can delegate someone to run them through the wash for you and have them all clean and fresh for when you come home.

Pack plenty of snacks

It’s not just clothes and accessories you’ll need, labour and birth can be hungry work, for all of you.  Pack snacks that are easy to eat and give you that energy boost – fruits, energy bars, nuts, sweets to suck on, plenty of drinks and water, even a bit of chocolate if you fancy it.  Sandwiches are a great idea in principle – but just be aware they may not be as appetising when they’ve been in your bag for a while!

Pack a pillow or two

Hospital pillows aren’t the most comfortable, so bring your own one from home. Douse it in your favourite perfume or essential oils if you are planning on using them, so that when you rest your head, you get a lovely comforting smell of home and calm.

A pillow will be handy in labour, in supporting you with breastfeeding baby or when you’re trying to get comfy on the postnatal ward. Maybe avoid your white pillowcases though – just in case of mishaps!

So what exactly should go into these bags then?

Labour & Birth Bag

  • Your maternity notes.
  • Your Birth Plan – ideally stapled to the front of your notes.
  • A comfy, loose outfit for labour that you can move around in and that won’t make you too hot. A front opening nightshirt or a big baggy t-shirt is great.
  • Slippers and a pair of warm socks that have grips on them.
  • A dressing gown in case you fancy a wander to the hospital coffee shop.
  • If you’re planning on getting in the pool – a vest top maybe a better idea.
  • Headphones to listen to music, block out the world or watch your downloaded box sets for the early stages.
  • Aromatherapy oils, especially if you have been using them during pregnancy, e.g. for hypnobirthing.
  • Flannels – to help keep you cool.
  • A phone and charger.
  • Your own pillow.
  • TENS machine and batteries if you want to use one and if your hospital doesn’t provide one.
  • Any medication you’re taking.
  • Your wash bag with your toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, soap, hair ties and other toiletries – pack bits for both of you.
  • Lip balm — to soothe your lips, which may become very dry
  • Snacks and isotonic drinks — to keep your energy levels up
  • Maternity pads
  • Big pants for after the birth – the bigger the better!
  • Nursing bra
  • Pj’s or lounge wear, front opening to change into after birth

For baby add in:

  • A short sleeved vest
  • A Babygro/all in one that covers baby’s feet and is long sleeved
  • Nappies
  • Cotton hat
  • Cotton wool for nappy changes
  • Muslin cloths for after feeding

Your postnatal bag is for after baby has arrived – once labour’s done and dusted and you’re chilling out with your new arrival, you’ll need a whole host of other things.

Your postnatal bag should have:

  • couple of front-opening nightdresses or loose shirts so you can breastfeed (if you choose to) and snuggle your baby skin-to-skin
  • Light dressing gown and slippers
  • A towel
  • A couple of packets of super-absorbent maternity pads
  • 5 or 6 pairs of knickers – you may also want to bring some disposable ones
  • 2 or 3 nursing or ordinary bras – bear in mind that your breasts will be much larger than usual
  • Breast pads to soak up leaking breast milk – you may need these even if you don’t plan to breastfeed
  • If you are going to breastfeed, you may want to take a nipple cream – these can help to heal any sore or cracked nipples that may occur in the early days of breastfeeding
  • Clothes to come home in – you’ll still have a bit of a bump so pack loose comfortable clothes
  • Up to 5 sleepsuits and vests or baby grows
  • A pack of newborn nappies
  • Cotton wool
  • A baby blanket or shawl
  • Clothes for your baby to come home in, including a hat, scratch mittens and socks
  • An extra hat
  • A snowsuit if it’s cold.
  • If you’re planning not to breast feed most hospitals will advise you bring your own formula milk and bottles in – check with you midwife what you’ll need.

You’ll also need to make sure you have a car seat that’s correctly fitted, and you know how to use.  Your midwives will always check to make sure baby is safely secure but do know  how it fits into your car.