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8 Things to Pack for Your Baby’s Birth

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
January 09, 2023

Before any big life event, we all want to be prepared, with the proper gear in place. Giving birth is no exception. But how can someone who has never been in labor before know what they might need on the big day?

Before anything else, start with the hospital bag itself. “Some people pack like they’re on a European vacation. I’ve seen garbage bags. And some come in with literally just their pocketbook,” says Melissa Kotlen, a registered nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York City. She recommends using a roller bag duffel that you can tuck into a narrow hospital closet if needed. Kotlen also advises that luxury luggage probably isn’t the best call. It’s common for things to get messy, she explains.

When to Start Packing Your Hospital Bag

Have your hospital bag packed by week 38, or as early as week 36 if you’re feeling up to it, suggests Kotlen. About 57% of births happen between weeks 39 and 40. What’s key, of course, is having the packed bag ready to go at a moment’s notice, so you’re not rushing to pack when it’s time to get to the hospital.

Where you stow the hospital bag is also important. Place the bag somewhere where you won’t forget it, like by the front door or in the car. If you’re afraid you’ll forget it in the excitement of the big moment, stash it near something you grab every day before leaving home, like your car keys or phone, she adds.

Shelley Alonso, 37, from Los Angeles, packed more than a month before her due date, leaving a carry-on suitcase beside her bed prior to the February 2022 birth of her first child.

The best advice is to do what feels right for you. Alana Shemtob, 35, of Scotts Valley, California, admits that she waited until very late in her pregnancy to pack before the birth of her first child in June 2021. “I was expecting that I would go past my due date, so admittedly, I didn’t pack my bag until about my due date,” she says. “Of course, while packing, I realized there were more things I needed to order. Luckily, everything arrived in time. That was probably the only benefit of [delivering] nearly two weeks late!”

Things to Consider

Keep the length of your hospital stay in mind when packing. Moms who deliver vaginally typically stay two days in the hospital after birth compared to moms who deliver by C-section and typically stay three or four days after birth. Still, you likely will want to pack some extra gear you’d need for a longer stay in case you have an emergency C-section, like Alonso did.

Find out what your hospital provides, so you can take those items off the hospital bag list. Usually, they’ll give you nonslip socks, receiving blankets, diapers, baby wipes, formula, onesies (or kimono-style baby style shirts with ties), pacifiers, ice packs, witch hazel, pain-relieving spray, and hemorrhoid cream. If you’re breastfeeding, they usually provide hospital-grade breast pumps and accessories.

In fact, you’ll likely be provided with almost everything you’ll need. Stacie Rothman, 36, of Plainview, New York, who gave birth in December 2021, packed light after talking to her friends. “I underpacked my hospital bag due to the feedback I received [from them],” she says. “I’m so happy I did, because I barely even opened my hospital bag.”

One thing you don’t need: underwear. Amanda Duman, 34, of Richmond, Virginia says she packed some but didn’t use it. “I was provided with hospital-grade disposable underwear that was much more comfortable and practical.”

And save some space for all the hospital items you’re encouraged to take home. Pamela Mendelson, 38, of Fanwood, New Jersey, brought an empty bag to stash them in for the birth of her second child in February 2022.

What Do You Really Need in Your Hospital Bag?

Here are a few items that recent new parents suggest you bring along:

1. Breastfeeding Supplies

One of the first things many new parents do after their baby’s birth is to breastfeed or chestfeed the newborn, which means you will want to be prepared for that. Consider packing:

  • Nursing bra(s). These support tender and swollen breasts and keep breast pads in place. Most importantly, they open quickly for easy access to feeding. Duman says she likes these cotton ones without an underwire. Alonso agrees that a nursing bra is essential. “They made it easier to breastfeed,” she says. “I arrived at the hospital wearing a sports bra, which is not ideal for nursing a baby, so I’m glad I had another.”
  • Nursing pillows. These can be used if you’re breast- or bottle-feeding to help decrease strain on your arms, neck, and back during feedings. “I left mine at home thinking I wouldn’t need it,” says Alonso. “I was wrong. It would’ve made nursing much easier than using a regular bed pillow.”

2. Clothing

When it comes to clothing, focus on ease and comfort, which are key to accommodating all of the changes in your body after birth. You can always use what the hospital provides, but if you think you might be more comfortable with your own items, consider packing:

  • Comfortable pajamas (or a nightgown). Duman, who had a C-section, packed loose-fitting, high-waisted pajama bottoms. She raved about this maternity PJ set. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having comfortable pajamas,” she says. “I didn’t want anything tight on my lower abdomen.”
  • Slippers. These can be used if you walk around during early labor.
  • Loose button-up tops. These allow easy access for those who plan to breastfeed or chestfeed.
  • Robe. Jordan Corcoran, 34, of Pittsburgh, packed two robes for the birth of her second child in October 2021. And because she had an emergency C-section, she was especially glad she did. “They are so comfortable and easy—easy access for doctors, for the baby, for skin-to-skin [contact with the baby], breastfeeding, and more,” she says. “I recommend packing two, because the first one will get dirty very quickly.”
  • Flip-flops. Shemtob was glad she had a pair of flip-flops, since her feet were too swollen for shoes. They also double as shower shoes, as needed.
  • Comfy clothes. “I was prepared this time, but with my first pregnancy, I didn’t pack enough loose-fitting, comfy postpartum clothing,” says Duman. Try to pick a garment you wore when you were about six months pregnant to ensure the right fit.

3. Toiletries

The hospital will provide toiletries if you want them, says Kotlen, but you can also bring your own. Here’s what you might want to toss in your hospital bag:

  • Lip balm. Veronica Figueroa, 31, of Winter Garden, Florida, says “My lips were incredibly dry, so I was constantly reapplying lip balm.”
  • Dry shampoo. “I did not feel up to washing and drying my hair,” says Duman. Between learning to breastfeed, trying to sleep, and perhaps fielding visitors, you may not get the chance to wash your hair for a day or two.
  • Face wash/wipes. Robyn Rusckowski, 33, of Boston, was glad she packed face wipes and face lotion, since she didn’t end up showering during her hospital stay after giving birth in August of 2021. “It made me feel human before leaving,” she says.
  • Other toiletries. Don’t forget items you may like better than the hospital-issued options, like deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, soap, and lotion. And if you think you might want to style your hair before leaving, you might consider bringing a hairbrush, hair dryer, hair ties, etc.
  • Eyewear. Don’t forget your contact lens case and contact solution, or glasses, if you wear them.
  • Makeup (if you want it!). Alonso regrets not bringing makeup. “We ran out of our home in a panic the morning I went into labor, so I forgot my makeup bag,” she says. “I personally wanted [to wear] makeup for pictures.”

4. Baby Gear

Don’t forget you will go home with a baby and you will need all the gear they require. The most important things to remember are:

  • Infant car seat. This won’t fit in a bag, but a word to the wise: You won’t be allowed to leave the hospital without one! It’s a good idea to install the car seat about a month before your due date—give yourself extra time to ensure that it’s installed correctly. Local police departments or fire stations typically offer free safety inspections on car seats if you’d like someone to check your work.
  • Going-home outfit (for baby). In fact, you may want to pack two. Shemtob was sorry she didn’t bring an extra going-home outfit: “Carter immediately pooped on the one I planned to use,” she says.

5. Electronics

Electronic devices can help you stay in touch with family and friends, post photos (if you want to), and generally ease labor with music and other portable comforts of home. Some to consider include:

  • Phone. You’ll want to take pictures and tell everyone about your new arrival!
  • Phone chargers. Remember to pack long charging cords in case power outlets are far from your bed, recommends Rothman. It’s a good idea to bring a portable power bank, too, in case no outlets are nearby.
  • Headphones or AirPods. You may want to listen to music to drown out hospital sounds or to help you relax.
  • Portable speakers. If you’ve got a labor playlist made, this is a great way to play your favorite music in the labor and delivery room.

6. Snacks/Drinks

The hospital will provide meals, but you will likely also be happy to have little treats available for labor, and especially for the time after. These could include:

  • Lollipops or other hard candies. These can alleviate dry mouth.
  • Mints or breath strips. These may help if you get nauseous or vomit during labor.
  • Clear liquids. The hospital will give you ice chips and water. But if you’d rather have coconut water or clear Gatorade, pack that, says Kotlen. She says you can even have broth, if you prefer it, as long as it doesn’t contain solids.
  • Insulated water bottle. Figueroa was glad she packed a stainless-steel cup with a straw. Her hospital provides patients with a large, reusable plastic cup and straw after delivery; but, since they aren’t insulated, the ice melted in hers and the water became lukewarm. On the other hand, the insulated bottle kept everything cold. Plus, it’s easy to sip from when you’re lying on your back.

7. Paperwork

Don’t forget these crucial documents that can speed along the hospital registration process and help give those caring for you a sense of your birth plan.:

8. Optional: Pillows, Towels, and Blankets

To be more comfortable, you may want to pack your own pillow, since hospital pillows can be flat and not very soft. “It was good for placing near my C-section incision when getting out of bed, and for having something cozy to sleep on,” says Mendelson. It’s a good idea to choose a nonwhite pillowcase, so you can tell your pillow from the one in your room. “You may also want to pack a body pillow to put in between your legs,” says Kotlen. (Just know that it could get stained, she adds.)

If you have room, you may want to stuff in some bath and hand towels in your hospital bag, too. “My own towels were larger and fluffier than the hospital towels,” says Figueroa.

You can also pack your own blanket—but again, remember that it will likely get dirty, says Kotlen.

Bottom Line

Recovering from childbirth and spending a couple days in the hospital can be uncomfortable, so the goal is to be mentally prepared for that and to prepare in advance, by packing items in your hospital bag that can make your stay feel a little less so.

Bring what matters most to you and what can provide you with maximum comfort, says Kotlen, who advises every birthing parent to bring a few extra items that will help “make the room cozy.” That way, everyone gets what they want: a safe and comfortable birth and recovery experience.

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