Liz Narins month 8 of pregnancy

What I Actually Needed at the Hospital During My First Labor

When my husband and I were preparing for my first hospital delivery, he packed a wheeling suitcase that weighed more than our unborn child. In addition to a change of clothes and toiletries, he inexplicably brought four Civil War tomes, six Soylent meal replacement drinks, and a New York Times crossword book. As first-time parents, we had no idea how long labor would take and how much downtime we’d have, so we packed for every possibility.

While every labor is different, my husband didn’t have a chance to crack one book besides the crosswords, which we used as scratch paper to record the funniest things I said during labor. (We laughed in the moment, not just in hindsight—so no, it’s not that bad!) We also stayed at the hospital an extra few hours on our last day to enjoy a meal we didn’t have to cook. The salmon was our favorite; we didn’t drink a single Soylent.

Packing Your Hospital Bag

I didn’t do too much better than my husband on the packing front, in part due to questionable advice. My mom was adamant about packing a nightgown so I would feel a little bit sexy after giving birth. I now know this is an actual impossibility. The first few nights after you give birth, you’ll sleep—for two hours between feedings, if you’re lucky—in disposable underwear stuffed with ice packs and the world’s thickest pad, which you will likely soak through several times. There is no way in hell you’re going to feel remotely attractive, so my best advice is to shoot for comfortable. 

First things first: I’d recommend against restrictive bottoms or any pants that didn’t fit during your last month of pregnancy.

First things first: I’d recommend against restrictive bottoms or any pants that didn’t fit during your last month of pregnancy, since it can take some time for the uterus to contract after the baby is out. It's also helpful to wrap your head around the fact that you'll only lose about 12 pounds immediately following childbirth. And despite Instagram ads featuring mommy-and-me get-ups, there’s no need to buy a special outfit for the occasion—and I’d actually recommend against it since it can create pressure to get the perfect picture.

What Should I Pack?

Due to hormone fluctuations, expect everything you know about your body to feel off-kilter: Your breasts might swell, your nipples might hurt, and you’ll probably sweat a lot. Cozy clothes won’t fix this, but they’ll make you feel a little better.

When packing PJs or comfy clothes, choose a dark color so you don’t have to worry about embarrassing leaks. (They happen; after all, the average woman can expect to lose about one pint of blood during and after vaginal delivery.)

If you plan to try breastfeeding and/or have skin-to-skin contact with your baby, any clothes you pack should open in the front, whether it’s a robe, a button-up pajama top, or an oversized hoodie.

Unless you prefer to go braless, bring a super stretchy, wireless nursing bra that’s one size up from your current cup. You won’t regret trying it on before you give birth. The clips aren’t super intuitive, so a little practice unfastening the flaps will go a long way when you have a hungry newborn in your arms. If you don't plan to nurse, your breasts are still going to be tender, so you might opt for a wireless bra or tank with a built-in shelf bra.

When it’s time to shower, you and any birthing partner will also appreciate a pair of shower shoes and some hotel bath products—you deserve a nice shampoo after nine months of growing a human!

While all of the items mentioned above are borderline essentials, my most prized possession throughout my hospital stay was my phone charger. Visitors were prohibited due to COVID-19 when I went into labor, so I spent much of my stay FaceTiming with my newborn’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who were all too excited to meet him. 

I left the hospital a day early to avoid COVID-19 exposure. Had I stuck around, I might have appreciated a heating pad for my neck, which began to ache after hours of watching my son nursing, and a nursing pillow, which helped prop him up as I got used to the position.

Otherwise, I can't think of a single essential that wasn't already in my purse. (Read: Chapstick.) After all, the hospital supplies you with everything from food to bedding to sanitary products and yes, even a toothbrush for you and an itty bitty comb for your baby.

What I Wish I Brought

While you might not think ambiance matters—you’re in a hospital, after all!—I learned the hard way that there are two kinds of lighting in hospital rooms: Blinding surgical bulbs and no light at all. I’m a firm believer that light can affect your moods, so keeping things as pleasant and soothing as possible can only help you feel at ease, especially during those times when you can’t figure out why your new kid is crying.

My sister-in-law smartly packed a set of string lights in her hospital bag; it’s a tip I’d take the next time around since tiny bulbs are dim enough for you to rest but still bright enough for you to keep your eyes on your baby. I’ve also heard parents recommend battery-operated candles, which I’d have totally thrown in my bag if I’d happened to have them on hand.

If you’re typically sensitive to light when you sleep and want to throw an eye mask into your bag, go ahead. Just know that you’ll probably be so zonked that you won’t need it. 

Packing for Your Baby

At the end of the day, you’ve been packing for yourself your entire life—you’ve got this. The toughest part of packing for the hospital is anticipating the needs of the little person you’ve yet to meet. 

You won’t regret bringing a velcro swaddle since swaddling a baby in a regular blanket can be way harder than it looks—especially when you’re starved for sleep.

Most importantly, you’ll need an outfit for them to wear home. (Although I brought about 10 different options to the hospital, lest I get his size or style wrong, I can attest that you only really need one onesie and a hat, if you’d like.) Of course, as a first-time mom dressing her kid for his first trip outdoors, I ended up layering on several onesies and sticking him in my least-favorite hat after learning the cute one with the ears I'd brought was way too large. While the first photos I took of my son in our apartment aren't exactly Instagram candy, they're a reminder of just how clueless I was in the moment—and how far I've come since then.

Last tip: You won’t regret bringing a velcro swaddle since swaddling a baby in a regular blanket can be way harder than it looks—especially when you’re starved for sleep. 

My Surprising Essential

If there’s one thing you remember to pack in your hospital bag, make sure it’s another bag—ideally a collapsible duffle, but a reusable grocery bag will do. Labor and recovery nurses are particularly generous with supplies like pads and the disposable underwear that every mother swears by. (I honestly would still be wearing them nearly two years postpartum had I taken more!) The last thing you’ll want to do after you leave the hospital is to scramble for sanitary or witch hazel pads, a squirt bottle, ice packs, or underwear that fits.

Since recovery time differs for everybody, pack supplies like you’ll be off your feet for a few weeks and fill your bag to the brim before you leave the hospital. My bathroom medicine cabinet still harbors half of the supplies I scored, but I have zero regrets (and feel uncharacteristically prepared for my next kid!).

A Few Other Essentials

While these items may seem basic, they bear repeating because they're so important!

  • Your birth plan
  • Any hospital paperwork
  • A carseat (that you know how to install!)
  • Snacks and water
  • Socks, booties, or slippers (for you and your little one)

The Bottom Line

There’s no harm in overpacking your hospital bag—just make sure whatever you bring plays a role in making you feel more comfortable. Anything that makes you feel a little less uncertain, and a little more in control of what’s bound to be a wild few days is well worth the schlep.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chauhan G, Tadi P. Physiology, postpartum changes. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  2. Merck Manual. Excessive Uterine Bleeding at Delivery.

  3. Fernandez DC, Fogerson PM, Ospri LL, et al. Light affects mood and learning through distinct retina-brain pathwaysCell. 2018;175(1):71-84.e18.

By Elizabeth Narins
Elizabeth Narins is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, editor, and social media strategist whose favorite workout is chasing her toddler. Her work has been published by Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Parents, Health, Bustle, and more.