Are you struggling to stuff all the "essentials" into your hospital bag? Asking yourself, do I really need to bring a curling iron, makeup, 3 sets of pajamas, or baby wipes? What will the hospital be able to provide, and what can I leave at home? I've had two labors. Both were scheduled inductions, so I was able to have plenty of time to pack and prepare everything without rushing out the door between contractions. I learned what is 100% necessary to bring for the two days you'll be in the hospital, and what things were completely untouched.
I'll provide a downloadable checklist, and I'll also dive into which items I really loved and needed, what things I wish I had brought, and what things I advise against bringing!
To start off I'll clarify, I live in the United States, up in the midwest. We typically have diapers and wipes and even onesies/swaddles provided in the postpartum units, but after speaking to an online friend I was told that some other countries don't provide those kinds of things. I'll base the post off of what we personally had at both hospitals. (I labored at two different hospitals but they provided mostly the same things). You can always call ahead and ask, or if you tour the birthing unit you can ask then.
I certainly overpacked when I had my first baby. I'm a "bring an extra ___ just in case" person, and oh wow. We hardly touched anything we packed. Even with the second we didn't use much! For Mom:
Going home clothes: Keep it comfortable, I always wore sweatpants and a maternity shirt. News flash, you still look 6 months pregnant when you leave the hospital! Don't even bother trying to squeeze into jeans or tights with your adult diaper on, either. Skip the hospital diapers (if you're bold) and try out either these Fridamom Disposables or Davin and Adley Mia Boxers! I'll be getting both.
Your own labor gown: This is something I wish I had brought, to wear after the labor (because hello, bodily fluids!) to stay comfortable but easily accessible for uterus checks, pad changing, and nursing.
Sweatshirt/robe: I got so cold the first time, and I didn't pack a sweater because it was July. Big mistake! The second time, I was nice and comfortable in a big loose sweater.
Slippers: In the first hospital, a nurse kindly reminded my husband that hospital floors are absolutely disgusting and one should not walk in just socks! Shoes can be annoying to get on and off, so we opted for some slippers. I personally don't like to put dirty socks where I sleep- so I definitely made sure not to forget my slippers.
Nursing bra & Nursing pads: The pads may not be totally necessary because you really don't leak much during the first few days when you're producing only colostrum. However, if you're going to be using a nursing bra, it's best to get the hang of it from the get go. You could bring your own nipple butter if you're anti-lanolin, the hospital typically has that one. I love this Nipple Butter- You can get 15% off with the code TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD.
Toiletries: The basics, don't forget your toothbrush! If you plan to shower, they typically provide little soap bottles, but don't expect conditioner and leave in treatment! It's best to bring your own. If you plan to take any photos in which you want to wear makeup, you could bring that. Make sure you don't forget your hairbrush and hair ties/scrunchies!
Long phone charger: Literally, buy the longest one you can find. The outlets are not that close to the bed! I'm talking like a 10 foot cord here, mamas.
Desired pumping supplies: If you wanted to use any colostrum collectors or if you are a planned exclusive pumper, I would bring your basics. Pump, flanges, charger, etc. The hospital will likely be able to provide you a wash basin with dish soap and a fridge to store milk. Again, you can ask ahead to clarify. They should have a pump there, but the flanges will likely be huge.
Vitamins/medications: You can bring your daily vitamins and medications, but be sure to fully clarify with the nurse(s) what exactly you're taking, in case there's any conflict between them and something they need to give you!
Going home clothes: something simple to wear home, typically I packed zip up sleepers. I recommend bringing two sizes, just in case. My first baby was so big she barely fit newborn clothes, and my second baby was smaller and fit them just fine.
First picture outfit: Everybody loves a good newborn in the hospital photo- I bought this cute set for my second baby (can you tell I got into the neutrals vibe?)
Footprint kit: I know the hospital typically makes footprints on something, but I've got parents, in laws, and grandparents who would like their own keepsake that's not a photocopy. I love these no touch stamp kits, no ink on baby!
Name plate/disc: The classic letter boards are a fun option to put baby's name, birth time and weight, and a cute message into their first photos. We used one with first baby, but for second baby I opted for the more minimalistic cute wooden discs.
Car seat: Do NOT forget the car seat! You won't be allowed to leave the hospital without one. Be sure you've installed the base for it beforehand to ensure it's all good to go.
Changes of clothes: Whatever they're into wearing, I recommend dressing for comfort rather than style. Sweatpants, pajamas, t shirts, that kind of thing.
Sweatshirt: Mom's not the only one who can get cold! Even in the summer (when the hospital is air conditioned) it can get pretty chilly.
Slippers: The same gross floor rule applies to partner, don't forget your slippers!
Toiletries: You can't just borrow mom's toothbrush- be sure to pack everything you use on a regular basis. Shampoo, face moisturizer, lotion. If you use it daily at home, you might be sorry without it in the hospital.
Change for vending machine: Not all vending machines these days take debit cards, so be sure to bring a few dollars or a bag of quarters for emergency snacking. Hospitals have specific hours during which you can order food, and the postpartum wing may offer you some snacks like our hospitals did. This is another thing you can confirm during your tour or call ahead.
Your own snacks: You could bring a bag of you and your partners favorite snacks, to save some money instead of relying on the vending machine.
Birth plan, ID, insurance information, hospital papers: You should have a folder with all of your important information such as the booklet the hospital will give you, your insurance information and identification, and your birth plan if you write one. I used this free fill-in-the-blank template with both pregnancies.
Extra chapstick: I personally made sure to pack about four in my bag- labor is the most important time to make sure you have it because your lips will get super dry. If you pack a handful, you'll be sure to not lose any.
Camera: If you're a family who uses a camera camera instead of just a phone camera, make sure you've got that all ready to go with the appropriate charging cord and an empty memory card!
Empty bag: I brought a tote and a garbage bag to bring home all the goodies you get to leave with! Everything postpartum supplies, baby supplies, gets thrown out when you leave. The nurses typically make sure you bring it all! (excluding linens, though we may have been given a single baby blanket with each baby). They do usually have plastic bags to put these things in for you though, if you'd prefer to pack light.
Things I personally don't think are necessary: Keep in mind this is all personal preference. If you want to bring them, nobody can tell you not to!
Your own birthing ball: I can guarantee you the hospital will have one. How do you plan to bring one in anyways, inflate and deflate? Roll it in?
Hair dryer, straightener, curling wand: If you want to bring this, go for it! I've heard of some mamas wanting to feel "themselves" after the labor, or getting all dolled up for newborn pictures. I personally don't care for it and won't be packing them.
Your own towel: I personally didn't plan to shower in the hospital. With first baby I had to because I got vomit in my hair (yikes) and with second baby we went home at 24 hours instead of 48 (thanks covid) so a shower wasn't necessary. Using a towel thats not ultra plush, one time, is not going to hurt you.
Your own pillow: Unless you literally can't sleep unless you're on your own memory foam pillow, this is just another thing to lug to and from the hospital and risk forgetting.
Your own blanket: Same applies from the pillow, if you're a comfort item person by all means bring a blanket, but for the short time you're staying you truly don't need it. Some people in the world don't even have blankets, you'll survive!
A ton of outfits for baby: I see some checklists calling for 3 pajamas, 3 onesies, 3 pairs of socks, 3 hats, etc. That is ridiculously unnecessary. Especially because most hospitals here provide the basic onesie, socks, and a sleep sack.
Blankets, burp cloths: Again completely unnecessary for the first 48 hours of baby's life, you can leave them at home!
Baby health kit: Those kits with bulbs, clippers, hairbrushes, etc are not needed in the hospital. They have bulbs there, and the chances are that your baby is bald or very close to it and doesn't need their hair brushed, and certainly not their nails trimmed.
Baby wash: You truly don't even need to bathe your baby at the hospital, it's beneficial for their skin to wait longer. If you did want to wash them, the hospital absolutely has baby soap.
Computer: I can't believe I've seen this on some checklists. We actually brought portable gaming devices for our first baby's induction and I laughed at how we did not have any interest in that when things got going!
Flip flops for shower: I don't see this as being something completely necessary, but some people are concerned for fungi or other gross things getting on their feet in the hospital showers. You would think they get cleaned between guests.. you would hope..
Night light/sound machine: Of course a matter of personal preference, but in our hospital rooms there were many different light combinations, one included a very mild night light near the sink area. I don't know why people would pack one of those. A sound machine I can get behind, we use one at home, but I truly don't think we would have used it in the hospital if I had packed one.
Postpartum supplies for mom: The hospital will likely provide you with pads, disposable undies, tucks pads, and a basic peri bottle. You could honestly leave all your pre-bought supplies at home, they even encourage you to take everything that's leftover in the room because they have to throw it all away after.
Diapers, wipes for baby: These are very likely (almost certainly) also provided! You get to bring home everything unused as well, so you can have a handful in the car. I've seen people mention to pack diapers in the car for the ride home (because s*** happens, seriously!), but you likely won't need them. In all honesty, I did pack some in the car for second baby. The hospital was an hour away from our house, so I didn't know how often we may have to stop to feed/change a screaming baby. Turned out she slept almost the entire ride, whoop!
Bottles/Pacifiers: I've seen people write to bring bottles- even for babies who will be formula fed from the start, the hospital typically provides ready mixed formula bottles. Pacifiers are also typically discouraged for breastfed babies until breastfeeding is well established, but to each their own.
Water Bottle/Jug for mom: unless you really love using your own, the hospital has really good sized ones. Our second hospital even had special brand new ones with the hospital logo on it that we got to take home!
What I wish I had packed
Breastfeeding book: If I could do it all again, I may have tried harder to breastfeed. It went okay in the hospital with my first baby, our journey ended for different reasons later at home. With second baby, I was covid positive and had been given Sudafed before anyone told me that would dry up my milk. We had a very hard time and had to supplement with formula. After going home, I couldn't get her to latch so I became an exclusive pumper (and still am almost 10 months later). I would have brought one of my favorite breastfeeding books to flip through as a last minute prep (after reading through it already, of course). I've really enjoyed Lactivate!, and Boost Your Breastmilk. I'm currently reading a few others now that I may add to this list later on.
My breast pump: I have really thought about it, and I kind of wish I had been an exclusive pumper with both babies, right from the get go. I love being able to see with my eyes how much baby is drinking, and the ability to have my husband feed the baby is nice as well. I also like the safety net of having a little milk in the fridge or freezer in the event I get sick or have to be away from baby. (yeah, like that ever happens!) Some hospital LCs will apparently try to prevent you from pumping (from what I've heard), but if you go in there wanting to pump, you go RIGHT AHEAD.
Colostrum Collectors: I mentioned these earlier, it's something else I wish I had tried out with both babies.
Makeup: Not gonna lie, my pictures of the three of us in the hospital are not so flattering. Not only am I much more overweight than I'd like to be, I look like I hadn't slept in a week. A little concealer and eyeliner/mascara would have done me a favor.
Breastfeeding pillow: As cumbersome as they may be, going from brand new to breastfeeding without one to getting home and trying to use one was tough. I could have brought it with to start off right with it I suppose! Our first hospital had one, and I don't think the second one did, at least nobody offered one.
I hope my list and checklist can help you prepare to go have that beautiful baby! You're doing a great job, mama. Here are some other helpful pregnancy and baby related posts:
Free samples you can get during pregnancy
Choosing a baby registry site, Free gifts from baby registries, My do-over baby registry
Prenatal essentials, Postpartum essentials
And some posts centered around breastfeeding or exclusive pumping:
What I wish I knew about breastfeeding before having a baby
Common pumping mistakes that can hurt milk supply
My exclusive pumping survival supplies