It is an exciting and somewhat daunting task, packing your hospital bag in readiness for the upcoming birth of your baby and subsequent hospital stay. Even if you’re having a home birth, I suggest you pack a small bag of essentials. This is not because you think you will fail, but you know, murphy’s law, if you don’t pack it, you’ll need it and vice versa. I had a home birth that ended up at hospital and had intentionally not packed a bag. This resulted in my poor sister rummaging around my bedroom trying to find everything and, because she had not yet had children, I ended up with white underwear and pants, and non-breastfeeding-friendly tops. Needless to say, next time round I packed a bag (and didn’t need it!).
So, rule number one: Pack light (trust me, you will not need 17 pairs of pants). Rule number two: Pack light (you are not going to a third world country, so if you forget anything or run out of something, send a friend or family member out to get it for you). Rule number three: Pack light (even an entire support team with big appetites will not need a whole esky of food to “get through” the labour).
The average length of stay for a normal vaginal birth is around 2-3 days at most hospitals (add another 2-3 days for caesareans). Every hospital differs with what they provide for your stay, ask your midwife what your hospital provides. Every hospital will provide linen (including sheets, blankets, towels, baby singlets, baby gowns and baby bed linen). With all that said, below is a list of things that you will require.
Comfortable clothes to wear in labour.
There will be hospitals gowns that you can wear, which some people find great because they are made of breathable cotton, with easy access to go to the toilet, it doesn’t matter if it gets dirty and you don’t have to wash it. If you would prefer to wear your own clothes, an oversized tshirt or nightie is perfect.
Handy Hint: Pack separately in a plastic bag – your toiletries, one pair of undies, a singlet top (the tightness of a bra may hinder milk production in the first few days), loose track pants, a tshirt and slippers. Put this bag at the top of your suitcase, so your partner or the midwife can find it easily when you’re having a shower after the baby is born, without having to dig through your whole bag.
3 long loose pants, 3 baggy tops, 2 pairs of winter pj’s, 8-10 dark coloured undies in a size bigger than normal, 2-3 maternity crop tops or singlets (“target” and “bras n things” sell them and they are less restrictive than bras), thongs (flip flops), 4 pairs of socks, slippers and a warm jumper (the air-conditioning in hospitals is notoriously freezing).
Toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser and lip gloss (air-conditioning is extremely drying) hairbrush, shampoo and deodorant are all essential. You don’t have to look glam in hospital, it’s not a competition, remember you will have a newborn to look after and less time to beautify. But if you would feel more yourself with makeup on, then go for it. Try not to use shampoo or deodorant for at least 24hrs after birth and then only use no or low-scented products, as babies need to learn your natural smell, which helps them to identify and bond with you. That may sound repulsive to you, after giving birth and all, but it is really important and a good warm shower will wash off any “grossness” and still leave your natural scent intact.
I found the most comfortable to be the “Stayfree” brand, currently in blue and pink packaging. This is because they are very thick, so they support and give extra padding to your sore perineum after birth. Warning though – it does feel like you’re wearing a surf board! I found “Big W” to be the cheapest place to buy them. The “Libra” brand aren’t bad either. You should change pads every 2-3 hours or more frequently when full, so you will need roughly one packet of pads per day for the first week. You may also need breast pads, in case your milk comes in super fast, but you won’t need heaps, 4-6 should do the trick.
For labour, you might like to pack a SMALL goodie bag for you and your support people. Apple juice or sports drink, a few muesli bars, a packet of lollies and a few cuppa soups should be fine. Hospitals generally have a cafeteria open during the day, and vending machines all hours, which can be a nice five minutes of relief from the intensity of the labour room, for support people. Pack some gold coins for the vending machine in a separate purse so you won’t spend them. For the rest of your stay, the hospital will provide main meals and light snacks and water, but when you are breastfeeding you are usually ravenously hungry, so pack some extra muesli bars, fruit or biscuits to nibble. You can also give visitors the job of bringing you these snacks, so your bag isn’t so big.
You might like to take a breastfeeding pillow to help you support baby in a more comfortable way (though I never used one). Note: always attach baby to breast without pillow first, once baby has attached properly, then position the pillow. Using pillows before attachment may cause incorrect attachment, which can lead to nipple damage. If your nipples do receive damage, then you might like to have a small tube of “Lansinoh” cream to help soothe, heal and keep cracked nipple soft and not form scabs. Lansinoh is the only approved topical nipple cream for breastfeeding (don’t use paw paw ointment) and you only need a teeny tiny bit on the damaged section of nipple. You might also like to take a watch/clock, notepad and pen to write down when, what side and how long each feed is, because the midwives will ask you. Some people find it hard to remember what breast to feed from, so take a bracelet to wear on your wrist on the same side you need to feed from next.
WARNING: Never self-administer ANY medication whilst in hospital. This includes panadol, nurofen, cold and flu tablets and ural sachets. The hospital has all of these medication on site and all you need to do is ask the midwives if you require it. The midwives need to know everything you take, so they can ensure there are no harmful drug interactions and that the medication is safe for breastfeeding.
Babies don’t need much in hospital. One small packet of nappies, wipes, 4 pairs of socks, 2 scratch mittens, one going home outfit and one beanie is enough. You don’t need any other clothes as it is much easier dressing/undressing baby for various hospital tests when they wear the baby hospital gowns. Besides the fact that they will get wee, poo and vomit all over them and you don’t have to wash them! Babies regulate their body temperature through their heads so make sure you never put a baby to sleep with a beanie on unless you are watching them the whole time. This is to avoid overheating and suffocation hazards.
I recommend using disposable nappies and wipes in hospital even if you are planning on cloth nappying at home. This is because cloth nappies are usually too big for newborns for a couple of weeks, the first poo (meconium) is next to impossible to remove from cloth, and you would have to take soiled nappies home to launder them. Breastfeeding is the preferred form of infant feeding but if you are planning to artificially feed, then bring bottles, formula and sterilising equipment. Dummies are not recommended for breastfeeding babies. If you do want to use dummies, then try to wait at least until your milk has come in, which will most likely be when you are home already. Remember, the more you feed the quicker your milk comes in, so using a dummy will cause a delay, possible nipple confusion and incorrect sucking and attachment onto your breast.
So now you’re armed with knowledge of the essentials. My only other advise to you is to enjoy yourself. Read all the hospital pamphlets about breastfeeding and baby behaviour, take a good book and go to the in-house classes on bathing, sleep and settling, physiotherapy etc. This will be a time in your life that you will never forget and in the end, who cares what was in your bag?!