Labor Nurses Tell You What to Pack (and Not Pack) For The Hospital

by Katy on January 28, 2017 · 17 comments

If you’re the end of your first pregnancy, you’re likely overwhelmed with advice on what to pack for the hospital. Make the mistake of doing an internet search to answer this question, and you’ll fall down into a deep well of conflicting information. Take everyone’s advice and you’ll end up lugging so much stuff to and from the hospital that you won’t have room for the baby!

So who should you ask? Nurses. I’ve worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 22 years, and I’m constantly mystified by the excessive amounts of stuff that first time moms bring with them to the hospital. All bright eyed and excited on admit, and then exhausted and sore upon discharge. Trust me, that stuff you thought you needed is a straight up burden when it comes time to pack up and leave.

What do you absolutely need to pack for the hospital?

Toiletries and a car seat. Seriously, that’s it. And in actuality, we have toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, combs and brushes if you didn’t bring your own. Patients come in all the time directly from their doctor’s offices with nothing more than whatever happens to be in their purses.

However, it can be nice to have some comforts of home. I polled a large number of labor and delivery nurses and this is what they say to bring (and not bring) to the hospital. Plus some bonus advice for your visitors.

Bring this stuff:

A car seat, your insurance information and the name of your pediatrician. These are the only things you absolutely must bring to the hospital. I’m always amazed by people who schlep in enough stuff to scale Everest, yet forgot to bring the name of their pediatrician. The hospital will notify your pediatrician’s office after the baby is born, and need that name in case there are medical issues. And you’ll do yourself a favor to practice installing that car seat ahead of time.

Lip balm and lotion. Hospitals are very dry environments, and labor is hard work. Forget your lip balm and you’ll be miserable.

A single outfit in both 0-3 month and 3-6 month sizes. You never know how big your baby will be, so come prepared. Why just a single outfit? Hospital babies are kept in just a diaper and a shirt to accommodate vital signs and frequent skin-to-skin time. The outfit is for the ride home.

One baby blanket, two if it’s winter. This is to tuck around the baby in the car seat.

Two comfortable pillows in non-white pillow cases. Hospital pillows are notoriously dreadful, so you’ll be more comfortable if you bring your own ones from home. Why non-white pillowcases? There can be a lot of quick activity in labor, and you don’t want to risk your pillows getting lost in the shuffle. Plus, they’ll come in handy when it comes time to prop your baby up for breastfeeding. If you have a Cesarean Section, a pillow is very helpful to splint against the incision during the bumpy ride home.

Pajamas or a nightgown that opens in the front. Unbuttoning your top is much more conducive to breastfeeding than lifting your shirt or being completely bare. Although the hospital will provide a gown, it’s nice to wear something of your own during your post partum stay.

Slippers or flip flops. We do our best to keep our hospital rooms as hygienic as possible, but trust me when I say that you don’t want to go barefoot. Flip flops are handy for showering both while in labor and then afterwards.

A pacifier. Maternity wards are pro-breastfeeding and we aren’t allowed to dispense pacifiers, as they’re associated with nipple confusion. So if you want one, you’ll have to bring your own.

A change of clothes for your partner, including something that’s comfortable to sleep in. Also, if your partner is planning to get into the jacuzzi with you during labor, I beg of you to bring swim trunks for him. Your labor nurse is unfazed by your nudity, but only your’s. Please . . .

Pony tail holders. You’ll likely spend a fair amount of time in bed, and pigtails are the best way to avoid a sweaty nest of bedhead.

Snacks for dad. Although hospital cafeterias are good about packing food to go, it’s better to have some food on hand. Granola bars, crackers and other shelf stable snacks can keep a partner going when they want to stay by your side.
A comfy outfit to wear when you leave the hospital. You’ll still be big after delivery, so don’t be surprised if your pre-pregnancy clothing doesn’t fit. Think loose yoga pants and slip on shoes.

Electronic chargers. Your phone is going to be buzzing up a storm when your friends and family find about about the baby, so make sure you can keep everything at 100%.

Entertainment. A pack of cards and a book can come in handy for a labor that may last for days. Especially if you’re being induced.

Don’t bring this stuff:

A Boppy pillow. Not only are they enormous, but we have breastfeeding pillows on hand, plus those hospital pillows actually work great for this function. You’ll mostly be breastfeeding while reclined, especially if you’ve had a Cesarean Section, and Boppys only work for breastfeeding while sitting upright. Save it for home.

A birthing ball. We already have birthing balls in multiple sizes, so leave this enormous object at home as well. You’ll be happy when it comes time to pack up and head out.

Scented items such as essential oil diffusers or candles. Not only are open flames forbidden in a hospital setting, (oxygen is highly flammable) but what you might consider to be a soothing scent might be an allergen trigger to those around you. These smells linger once you’ve left your room and can even be a problem for those outside your room. Most hospitals are scent-free zones so please leave your lavender oil at home.

Anything that plugs in beyond your electronics chargers. Hospitals are extremely detailed about fire prevention, (as well you want them to be!) If it plugs in, leave it at home.

A million random visitors. Birth is a very private experience, and having endless numbers of people at the hospital can be a barrier to your coping capabilities and breastfeeding success. Of course your family and friends are excited about your new addition, but there will be plenty of opportunities to visit you at home once you’re recovered. (I recommend that you let everyone beyond immediate family know this ahead of time to avoid hurt feelings.) It’s not uncommon for new moms to dangerously lengthen the time between breastfeeding sessions because of an endless trickle of visitors.

My hospital is currently under flu restrictions, and I liked the way this one sign was worded:

“Visitors to the maternity unit are limited to those essential to a patient’s emotional well-being and care.”

Are your neighbors, extended family and husband’s co-workers essential to your well being? Consider having them wait to visit with you until you’re back home.

What should visitors bring?

Food for your partner. Takeout from your favorite restaurant can be a real lifesaver for someone who may have been surviving for days on granola bars and bland hospital food. A fresh hot coffee can be a refreshing treat as well.

A small gift for the older sibling. No child is immune to feeling jealous of the attention that a newborn receives, so these gifts can be very special.

But visitors shouldn’t bring . . . 

Latex balloons. Hospitals are latex-free zones, so don’t waste your money on these highly allergic items. Frankly, don’t bring any balloons, as they’re a cumbersome item when a new parent’s should be 100% focused on their sweet baby.

Huge bags of baby gifts. Yes, those baby outfits, teddy bears and blankets are adorable beyond belief, but they needlessly add to the burdensome amount of stuff that sleep deprived moms and dads are already dealing with. This may seem overly strict, but watch a few parents receive human sized stuffed animals, and you’ll see my point.

Conclusion

Maternity nurses are your best friend, your advocate, your champion though the amazing journey of birth. We’ll provide everything you need, from slipper socks to forgotten toiletries. We’ve seen it all, and we want what’s best for you and your baby. You give birth to your new baby, we’ll provide the rest.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Gloria Shirley January 28, 2017 at 11:12 am

Beautiful picture!

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Tiffany January 28, 2017 at 11:55 am

I am surprised about the pacifier as the hospital is the one who introduced by daughter to the green squishy type binky..

I guess it would fall under hygenie items but the facial wipes were so refreshing..

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MamaMinou January 28, 2017 at 12:27 pm

I would definitely recommend bringing a doula along, as well!

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Kayleigh January 28, 2017 at 12:30 pm

I would say bring baby diapers. When I had my first baby insurance would only cover 2 days in the maternity ward so my newborn and I got sent to pediatrics for 3 days. It was a nightmare trying to figure out how to change my baby’s diaper. I was there 3 days and they gave 6 diapers. I asked for a few more and the nurses scrambled around clueless as what to do. They had absolutely no infant sized ones in pediatrics. I had to send my dad or somebody to Walmart at midnight. Bring your own baby diapers.

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Mary W February 5, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Wow. Seems like they could have had a runner go to the L&D floor or central supply for diapers. Making you supply them seems really odd to me. Worked as an RN on the medical floor for many years and we often asked other floors for items we didn’t usually need, but that were in common use elsewhere.

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Sarah January 28, 2017 at 12:32 pm

My last labor was over four years ago and I still think of my L&D nurse (Joan at OHSU) with much fondness. It’s an important work you do! I’m an introvert and a minimalist, so I brought my husband and a small bag. Ha! One tip that I have passed along to others–that I wish I would have tried myself–is to bring depends to use instead of the hospital mesh panty/pad combo. I haven’t got any feedback on that, though, do you think depends would be more comfy for some? If not, I’ll stop suggesting it 🙂

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Rb January 28, 2017 at 12:50 pm

I didnt try those but after my first time with those meshy ones which kept catching on my csect staples i brought along my own coton granny panties specifically for those first post partum days. Used em for my second and third babies then tossed em!

I also suggest bringing a baby bottle along if u intend not to breastfeed. I didn’t and had a hard time even getting formula from the nurses but my guy wouldnt switch to the bottles we had once we got home. Formula we got at the hospital but I brought bottles from home.

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Shevaun January 28, 2017 at 1:05 pm

I would add a birth plan, but only if you keep it super-super simple. Do not tick off your best-friend-labor-nurse with a complicated plan. They already WANT to keep you safe and comfortable!!

My birthplan for all three of my kids:
Epidural: YES, if there is time
Nubane: YES, if there is time
Oxygen mask on max: if there is no time for other pain relief
Please remove BP cuff when not in use, if safe.
Please remove IV port after delivery, if safe.

My first two babies were precipitous spontaneous deliveries, so the only pain control I got was oxygen (which doesn’t relieve pain, but does help with the panic of a 17 minute delivery). My third baby was an induction to avoid the 17 minute emergency. I got an epidural. May God bless my anesthetist.

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Marcia January 28, 2017 at 1:43 pm

Mine were born so long ago jacuzzi was not a word I ever heard in connection with birth–and my first was born in a military hospital–intended my second to be also but turns out she couldn’t wait. They took us both to a military hospital after birth. After the first 12 hours, they put clean sheets and gowns on the end of your bed each day and left the rest up to you. Also, I had to walk to the mess hall in my jammies and eat with the troops the second time. Didn’t thrill me but did thrill my ward-mates, because I was allowed to bring back a WHOLE POT of coffee, and they wanted it badly!! Times have changed.

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Ruby January 28, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Our son was an emergency C-section 26 years ago, so I was one of those ladies who showed up straight from the doctor’s office with nothing but a handbag. Thank goodness I had enough change in my purse to call my husband from the payphone in the ER.

Looking back on it, though, the only things I missed (aside from wishing for a gallon of morphine afterward) was my hairbrush, socks for my cold feet, and big comfy panties, as the elastic belt and pad combo actually rubbed a blister in a spot where I really, really did not want one.

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Mariana January 28, 2017 at 2:15 pm

I haven’t’ yet had to deal with this but one but mentioning a lip balm.
I had a surgery a few years ago and the first thing I asked for upon waking up was my chapstick. Thankfully I carry at least 7 with me at all times!

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PaperCraneFarm February 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Bring any medicines you normally take. I had conjunctivitis in the week leading into my first baby but didn’t bring the drops with me to the hospital. The docs there wouldn’t disperse antibiotic eye drops (or any other non-labor/delivery meds) and head to send someone to get them from my house.

Even if you think you’ll be in the hospital for only a short time, it could still be several doses of your or your partner’s meds.

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Nicoleandmaggie February 8, 2017 at 4:57 am

Our hospital gave us pacifiers and I found the boppy to be extremely useful in the hospital with DC1.

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Julie February 8, 2017 at 8:13 am

Please don’t lug the car seat into the hospital while laboring! Yes, you’ll need it to go home (although my friend had an interesting conversation with the hospital when she asked “what if I take the bus home?”) but you don’t need it until discharge (unless some hospitals have regulations otherwise??). Whomever is with you can go and get it later.

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Shirley Setia February 8, 2017 at 9:15 pm

Thanks for the most important that every woman should be aware of. Your blog really helped me and noted me down the important things that I should keep in mind while going to the delivery room. Visit http://www.heartlandadoptions.com/ for any adoption related query.

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Pamela Collingwood February 11, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Bring earplugs…hospitals can be noisy even with the door closed! I sent my baby to the nursery both nights so that I could get some sleep (knowing that I wouldn’t be getting much sleep for the next few months!) but the family next door was rooming in and their newborn was very fussy and loud! I’m so glad I had my earplugs with me! They also came in handy for daytime naps (while my husband was holding the baby).

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TC February 17, 2017 at 9:40 am

Thank you, this was very helpful! I’m having my first in a about 11 weeks and as a minimalist, I hate the idea of bringing a ton of things I don’t need. But I also was on the fence about visitors until I read this post. I think I’m only going to allow immediate family (+great grandma) to visit in the hospital.

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