An Anatomy of a Hospital Bag

What Not to Pack

In the short amount of days since my wee one arrived, I’ve had a chance to dissect my birth experience on a number of levels.

There are a lot of things I wouldn’t do different. For example, I think waiting as long as I could stand it before going to the hospital was a really good thing. My contractions first began around 1:30am, I called the doctor at 1:00pm, and then around 3:00pm I finally headed to the hospital. Being at home was so much better because I could move around freely. I was able to put myself in a hot shower a couple of times (highly recommended for contraction relief). I could pace through the rougher contractions and find housework to do to take my mind of them. Heck, I even blogged that morning. So, by the time I got to the hospital, I was pretty much halfway there.

And I definitely wouldn’t rethink the epidural. But there’s a lot more to say on that subject, so I’ll hold off for another post.

But there are a few things that I would do different if I had a chance to do it all over. And top on that list would be my hospital bag.

I got a basic outline of what to pack from Juliana, a former labor and delivery nurse who now teaches birthing, breast feeding, and basic baby care classes under the mantle of Birth-N-Babies. (By the way, I took both her birthing crash course and her breastfeeding course and would recommend both to any D.C.-based mommies-to-be, even if you’re not delivering at Sibley Memorial Hospital, where the courses are held.) Here’s what she recommended:

  • Insurance card and hospital paperwork
  • Glasses, contact lenses, case & solution
  • Book, magazine or cards for early labor
  • Basic toiletry items
  • Hair band
  • 2 pillows with colored or patterned pillow cases to avoid confusion
  • Snacks
  • Nursing bra
  • Nursing pads
  • Comfortable, loose going home outfit and shoes

I looked at list and thought that it would be a no-brainer to pack. But in retrospect, I really wish it went into more detail–like what kinds of comfy clothes, how many nursing bras, etc. So, here’s a revised look at the list with a few additions…

Insurance card and hospital paperwork: Duh. Or so I thought. However, I arrived at the hospital in active labor only to find out that the pre-registration paperwork that I had so carefully filled out in my most legible handwriting and faxed over days before my due date had never gotten to the appropriate person and, therefore, I was not “in the system.” I probably don’t have to tell you that it sucks to be braving through contractions strong enough to make you feel nauseous while sitting in an administrator’s office as s/he types in your name and asks you for insurance information. So, just to be on the safe side, I’d also throw in a hard copy of any pre-admission paperwork that you may have filled out. That way you can just dump the info off and move on up to L&D.

The other thing that I would put in the category of paperwork is your pediatrician’s name, address, and phone number. If your hospital is like mine, there are a series of metabolic tests that they do on the baby before you go home; they take a couple weeks to process, so the hospital needs to know where to send the results. This was a huge problem for us. Although we had chosen to deliver at a private hospital and use my private health insurance to offset the costs, we wanted to manage baby’s health care through the military health care system. To do this seemingly simple task turned out to be a headache that we’re still struggling to straighten out. So, my advice is come to the hospital with the name and contact information of the pediatrician you are going to use. There’ll be pediatricians on staff to check out the wee one while you’re in the hospital, but all the test results from the hospital need to be forwarded somewhere and you might as well not have to call back once you leave the premises.

Books, magazines, and cards: I packed up my Kindle and also threw in a book on breast feeding and I can say that I never cast a glance at either one of them. There were TVs in both my delivery and recovery rooms and I don’t think I ever turned either one off. (I watched a whole documentary on the snake fish, which is this really nasty, invasive fish that’s taking over the Potomac, during labor.) It was so nice to just vegetate in front of the moving picture box. However, I would recommend that your spouse, mom, or “other” birthing partner bring along some reading materials, particularly if you’re getting an epidural. I think my mom finished half her book of sudoku puzzles during my labor.

Basic toiletries: You’re likely to get a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a bar of soap, so don’t forget the facewash and the travel-size bottles of body wash, shampoo, and conditioner. I threw in a razor and some basic makeup items (face cream, eyeliner, and mascara) and actually used them. I felt totally human having those items at my disposal.

Hair band: I brought both hair ties and some cloth headbands and I definitely think the headbands, which were a recommendation from a mommy-friend, were the best. I swear you’ll be happier with your post-partum pics if you’re wearing a headband rather than a knotted up ponytail.

Pillows: For the record, I did not bring extra pillows from home. And boy, do I wish that I had. I don’t think I needed my body pillow, which I loved so much during my pregnancy that my husband actually started referring to it as “husband,” even though a friend had recommended bringing it. And I’m not sure I would’ve need two extra pillows. However, one of my really nice, fluffy pillows from my bed would’ve been a plus to have in recovery.

Snacks: Yes, yes, and yes. I had stuffed a bunch of granola bars in my bag for my mom and hubby–mommies-to-be can’t eat in labor–but I literally choked down two of them immediately after baby was born and I was sewed up. I was starving!

Nursing bra and pads: I didn’t go overboard with this stuff. In fact, I packed one Target nursing bra and a sports bra (this totally came in handy) and no nursing pads. My milk had started coming in at the hospital, but it really didn’t hit me until I got home, so I’m not sure you need all that much of this stuff up front. Plus, if your hospital is like mine, I was able to pick up a few nice nursing bras from the lactation consultants. The prices were reasonable (there was a discount from attending the in-hospital breastfeeding class) and there was a good selection–better than Target even. The only thing I would caution is that you might want to get a size up from what you’re measuring in the hospital.

Going home clothes: Although I spent the better part of the first day wearing the hospital gown and robe, I was so anxious to get in “normal” clothes. This was late May in D.C., so I packed two pairs of yoga pants, two maternity tank tops, a long sleeve t-shirt (I never put it on), a lightweight robe, and flip flops.

However, to do it all over, I’d have packed three pairs of pants instead of two, three tank tops instead of two, and a cardigan sweater instead of the long-sleeved t-shirt. I was in the hospital longer than I had expected to be because of the time of day I delivered. I went into the hospital Tuesday afternoon, but because I didn’t deliver until Wednesday morning, I wasn’t released until Friday. I felt like my tank tops were dingy and I easily could’ve blown through my yoga pant stash thanks to the bleeding and also random loss of bladder control (blame the catheter for the epidural). And the cardigan would’ve been a more attractive alternative to my robe, which I had to wear when we had to take the wee one to a different hospital for some additional tests before going home. I looked like a mental patient wearing my yellow robe, staggering into the place.

And I’d say if you can get away with wearing flip flops, meaning it’s not Northern New York in January, I’d recommend it. Some people’s feet swell a ton in the hospital. I had one friend who ended up wearing her hubby’s slippers home because her feet wouldn’t even fit into Uggs.

Miscellaneous: There were a number of other things that found their way into my bag–some for the better, some for the worse. For example, I had heard that dry mouth during labor was a big thing. So, I packed chapstick, suckable sour candies, and a few bottles of water. I never pulled out the chapstick or the candies, but I would’ve killed for a case of bottled water. The nurses bring you water and juice all the time, but the juice isn’t really juice–it’s juice substitute–and I prefer water out of a bottle even if its warm to tap water with ice. And somehow the dining crew always ends up snagging your cup, so with a bottle you are all set.

I also brought my own towel from home, which I really couldn’t have done without. Not only did it make me feel more normal, but as you will find out if you’re breastfeeding, your nipples will be super sensitive, so having a nice, soft, normal sized towel–what the hospital provides is very much akin to a couple of gym towels–to pat dry with was wonderful.

The other thing I would highly recommend is to bring your Boppy, My Breast Friend, or whatever else you plan to use to help you nurse. This was a recommendation that came from my friend Courtney and I can’t thank her enough for it. So many other new moms at the hospital were totally jealous when they saw me trekking down to the breastfeeding class with the Boppy.

However, the one thing that I didn’t pack in my bag was a pacifier. I’m not a huge fan of them to begin with, so it didn’t occur to me to throw one in the bag just in case. However, as we had to make the pit stop at the other hospital for a couple of additional tests, baby went into meltdown mode as the doctors were trying to get an echocardiogram done and I wished to god I had one. My index finger made for a very poor substitute.

I didn’t bother mentioning to pack your camera, cell phone, Flip camera (if you have one), and all the charging accoutrement that go along with them; I sort of figure that those were probably the first things in your bag.

And I guess the last piece of advice I have for mommies-to-be is pack as light as possible. Forget the rolling suitcase; a decent overnight bag will suffice if you pack efficiently. After all, you’re going to be lugging a lot more stuff home than you went to the hospital with–baby, car seat, extra diapers and wipes for baby, all your post-birth products, and at least one (if not two) gift bags from a formula manufacturer.

And I totally encourage all you mommies out there to chime in if you found other stuff that proved to be essential during your hospital stay. It’s easy to comment!

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4 Comments

Filed under birthing, hospital

4 responses to “An Anatomy of a Hospital Bag

  1. Teresa

    Umm, make sure the battery on the camera is charged. Buy a second so you can always keep one in the charger if you have to. That was a mistake my husband made.

    Also, make your husband bring long pants. It was warm when I delivered and my husband, against my suggestion, decided shorts would be enough. Wrong, especially in the labor room that was cold to him and hot to me!

    • Absolutely! I brought every single charger I own with me just in case I got a little flash happy in my excitement. But I never thought about a second battery. Great idea, Teresa.

      And point taken on making sure dad has everything he needs to be comfortable. In retrospect, maybe Ian should’ve had his own little overnight bag. He would’ve been much more comfortable with his own pillow as well.

  2. Bwalya

    Make sure you familiarize yourself with the ward you are in, you may want to take a walk around. My husband and i ended up in some other ward, lucky for us that was where my nurse was.

    And make sure you do practice run to know your way around, if you have just moved. My friend nearly gave birth in the car.

    • Those are all good suggestions. Unfortunately, I was never able to visit the ward where I gave birth. With the threat of various flu epidemics, my hospital banned all tours. But it all turned out just fine. Thanks again for sharing!

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