Every mom-to-be is advised to keep her “go bag” at the ready so that whenever her labor starts, everything’s already set aside, ready to be tossed into the car as she heads to the hospital. Closely adhering to the long lists of items some parenting books and Web sites recommend, though, could turn that “go bag” into a “go suitcase.” A yoga ball? A pumice stone? Massage oil? A portable stereo system to play soothing music? While surely some women have packed these items and found them useful, many others return from the hospital thinking, “I never got around to using half this stuff!”
You’ll bring the basics, of course: shampoo, onesies, deodorant, your contact lenses, a nursing bra, a car seat, and your address book. But moms who have been through labor and delivery advise that those lengthy checklists don’t always tell you about the items that come in handiest.
- Earplugs and/or a sleep mask. “Why are hospitals so darn noisy?!” says Kate P. Being able to block out minor sounds and changes in the light can help you hold on to those last precious few hours of sleep.
- A robe. Hospitals can get cold. Also, whether you’re wearing a fanny-revealing hospital gown or your own nightie, you may find yourself walking around in public areas during and after labor, and a robe is an easy way to cover up.
- Lip balm. Because of the dry air in the hospital and women’s heavy breathing during labor, their lips have a tendency to become chapped.
- Maxi pads. Kelly B. recommends bringing your own feminine pads “instead of the diapers they give you!” Most hospitals offer sanitary napkins or special mesh maternity panties after you give birth, but what they have on hand may not be as comfortable as the thin, winged, ultra-absorbent pads you’re used to.
- Your own pillows. Hospital pillows can be lumpy or thin, but a pillow from home can make you much more comfortable when sleeping or breastfeeding. Be sure to use a colored pillowcase so it doesn’t mistakenly get tossed in with the hospital’s bedclothes.
- A heavier blanket. “My delivery room was freezing cold,” says Hilary P. A blanket could also come in handy if your partner wants to take a nap in the room.
- Newborn hats. The hospital often provides them, but for those highly photographed first days, many moms wish they’d brought something cuter or more personal. Says Kate M., “There were a lot of photos taken, and she was wearing the boring hat the hospital provided in all of them.”
- Infant nail clippers. Babies’ fingernails (and toenails) can be very sharp. For liability reasons, hospitals usually don’t have nail scissors on hand, but if you bring your own, you can trim Baby’s nails so she won’t scratch herself (or you).
- Formula. If you’ve already decided that breastfeeding isn’t for you, you’ve probably also done research and decided on the formula you’ll use. Take some to the hospital so that you can start feeding your newborn the preferred brand right away, instead of taking what the hospital provides and then trying to switch afterward.
- Your computer. If you bring a laptop, you can upload and email photos, send messages, or occupy yourself during a long labor by watching movies or listening to music. Many women recommend bringing books, puzzles, cards, games, or other ways to amuse yourself in the downtime during and after labor, but just as many advise that when you have that downtime, you should use it to get some sleep.
- Water, soda, and snacks. “Chocolate,” says Amelia L. “For me, that is—not the baby.” If you get hungry during labor or afterward, you don’t want to be at the mercy of the hospital vending machines. Bring bottled water, caffeine-free soda, juice, granola bars, pudding, or whatever snacks will make you feel comfortable and satisfied. “I had such a pop craving,” says Kate M., “and the vending machine didn’t have the kind I liked.”
- Treats for the nurses. “It ensured I would get what I wanted when I needed it, by showing that I appreciated them,” says Jodi G., who’s a nurse herself. “I don’t know if it made a difference in my care or not, but everyone was fabulous.”
- An extra tote bag. You may receive cards, flowers, stuffed animals, or other gifts that you’ll need to take home afterward.
Before you pack your bag, be sure to tour your hospital or birthing center and find out exactly what it provides, then supplement its supplies with items from your home. Don’t overdo it, though—bringing duplicates just creates more clutter and more luggage you’ll have to transport and unpack. Whether it’s your favorite foot scrub or your beloved childhood teddy bear, know what you’ll need to feel comfortable and relaxed, and just bring those things. Then, when the important stuff is ready to go, go ahead and throw in that yoga ball if you have room. It couldn’t hurt.