Dear mommies and daddies, birth partners and friends, I say to you, don't over-do it. While in the mother-baby unit, happily snuggling our new bundle of love, I caught a glimpse of several new mothers being wheeled past our door on the way to check out of the hospital (some hospitals, like the one we were in, have a policy of checking the mothers out in wheelchairs whether they are needed or not). They all had in common that sweet, exhausted, lovey expression on their faces. Some of them cradled their babies in their arms, others were followed by proud daddies holding their new little charges. All of them had stuff. One mother caught my attention as her wheelchair went past, laden with a suitcase, a backpack, a diaper bag, a car seat, and then several large trash bags full of...stuff. She was followed by another wheelchair full of her possessions. I think there was a baby in there somewhere, but I can't be sure.
I expected I'd be a little better off by only bringing my purse (other than an I.D. didn't need it), the diaper bag (didn't need it), two backpacks (only needed one), a toiletry case (a small bag would've worked), a pillow, a robe, and three changes of clothing. And I was, but not by much. Giving birth in a major metropolitan hospital meant running out to the car was a forty-minute ordeal, so the goal was to take one trip. We had a few visitors that brought gifts: a baby swing, a stuffed animal, flowers, a balloon, cupcakes, fruit. All these things had to be carried. Then there's the hospital "gifts". As a rule, most hospitals cannot use baby supplies once they've been brought into a room. It's silly to think that if you use one diaper from a pack of Pampers that they'll throw the rest away, but that is exactly what many of them do. So, if you're like me, you'll be inclined to take them home, if not to save money then to avoid the waste. Or, perhaps because a knowing nurse says, "take everything you can fit in your bag!" as happened to us on both occasions.
With kid number two I wised up a little. We brought one backpack and my pillow. My husband ran the pillow out to the car with a small bag of hospital goodies (it was a much smaller hospital the second time around and the parking garage was right outside the Labor and Delivery unit) prior to our departure. Then proudly we walked out of that place, light and unharried, with our backpack and our baby. We looked like we had done this before. Frankly, we had, but we looked like it, and that's what counts.
I'd like to help you have a simple, calm experience by offering this checklist of what to bring to the hospital.
- A nice camera. If you only bring one item from this list, let it be a nice camera. Buy, borrow, or rent, make sure to bring a nice one. You're only going to have this baby once, and it is worth it to have some of those first moments documented in HD.
- A small toiletry bag with these items in travel size:
- A toothbrush for you and your partner
- A small tube of toothpaste, like what you get from the dentist
- A hair tie and a couple bobby pins (if you have bangs)
- A small shampoo, conditioner and body wash. You may think the body wash is overkill, but after what you body is going to go through, something that doesn't smell like a hospital will be a welcome refreshment for your tired self.
- Lip balm and some simple makeup items. The lip balm is for labor. A lot of heavy breathing can dry out those lips, and you want them to be fresh and soft for that first kiss you've been waiting for. The makeup is for when you're getting ready to go home. Normally, I'm not a makeup person, but in the hospital, even 48 hours after baby, I looked pretty pallid. It's really not necessary; it's just a little nicety to help yourself feel normal. I brought a little powder and mascara. Keep in mind that many hospitals also provide a photography service to snap a few nice photos of you and your newborn (my husband wants to note here that though that session is free, you'll have to pay for the photos). In the event of a C-section, a small pack of face cleansing wipes can be nice, since you might not be able to shower right away.
- One simple change of clothing for you and your partner. Pack something you wore at about 5 months pregnant because that's probably about how you will look when you leave the hospital. There are exceptions, but don't expect to leave looking like you were never pregnant. Also, you'll be in a hospital gown the whole time, so don't worry about more changes of clothing.
- A pillow. Why don't hospitals ever have enough pillows? Why do the ones they have feel like they're made from recycled cardboard?
- Your own slippers and robe. If you plan to do any wandering around while in labor, the hospital will probably give you socks with the little grippies on the bottom and two identical gowns, one to cover your front and one to cover your back. Those are fine, but slippers and a robe feel like home. It's much the same idea as a pillow. The hospital will provide you with these things, but it can be nice to have what's closest to you feel familiar and comfortable. They can be a little bulky, though. So maybe, when you are getting dressed to go, have your partner run your pillow, robe and slippers out to the car, like I mentioned before. If you think you'll be fine without, I'm sure you will. These are just suggestions after all.
- The car seat. I'm not making brand suggestions here. Just make sure it's new or came from a trusted source if used. It should not be expired (check the label on the bottom) and should never have been in a car accident. Why, you ask? Well, personally I think the expiration date is to save the manufacturer's butt in the event that there is a faulty piece. There are so many safety regulations that are updated based on the latest statistics and research that Graco or Britax or whoever can't be bothered with keeping track of what they may have done wrong ten years ago. They have their current line of car seats to worry about. Also, for your sake, if you ever call customer service to get a replacement part or accessory for an expired seat, you're not likely to get it.
- An outfit to take baby home in. This is one of the most fun things about preparing your hospital bag. Remember, baby will feel fragile and delicate, so don't pick something you're going to have to wrestle him or her into. Avoid denim and other heavy fabrics.
- A snack. Some hospitals don't provide any food for your partner, some just don't have good food, and sometimes you're hungry at 3 am. In any case, it's nice to have a backup protein bar to see you or your partner through.
- A small notebook or journal. Like the snack, you may not use this. But I suggest that while you are in the early stages of labor, maybe write a note to your baby. While in recovery, you can write down some of your first impressions of your new little friend. Sometimes it all ends up being a blur and it's nice to have that to look back on. You can also write down notes and questions that you have for the doctor.
- A blanket for baby. Just like the pillow and bathrobe this, strictly speaking, is not necessary. The hospital will provide you with one. However, it was special for us to look at a blanket made by Grandma while in labor. It helped keep me going by focusing on wrapping my baby up. I explain having a special item for labor in a different post that can be found here.
So, there you are. Ten things that should, for the most part, fit in one good-sized backpack. If you live near the hospital or birth center you can always have a trusted friend bring something to or from the hospital for you. So, when in doubt, take less stuff.
You won't die because you had less stuff, I promise.