The REAL hospital bag checklist

Google ‘hospital bag’ and you’ll get many, many lists of ALL the stuff you need in order to have a baby. It’s pretty daunting! I remember it well. And now I look back on my first labour hospital bag, I wonder whether I had confused childbirth with some sort of spa break. A travel candle, magazines and an actual music playlist. WTF? The bag that I spent a month packing? Never made it out of the car. Obviously. If you want to pack an all singing, all dancing hospital bag there’s nothing wrong with that. But if the sheer, overwhelming thought of it is making you not want to give birth at all, here’s a lowdown on the REAL essentials. (Everything else you can do without, trust me.)

Stuff you need.

  1. Yourself. If it really came down to it, literally the only thing you’d need to give birth is YOU. Everything else is the icing on the cake. Remember this and you’ll eliminate a lot of the stress when you realise you’ve forgotten to pack the lip balm that you’ve convinced yourself you really need in order to have the ‘perfect’ birth.
  2. Tens machine. I personally rate this. A LOT. I know it doesn’t float everyone’s boat but it’s got me through three labours and I would not attempt labour without it.
  3. Snacks/flavoured drinks. I’ve added this one post-publication as a lot of you have mentioned you needed snacks post birth (because the hospital food was sparse or the hospital cafes were shut). Cereal bars. Chocolate. Biscuits. Not so much for during labour (which is when I imagined I’d be picnicking away, presumably when I was also leisurely reading my magazines and smelling my candle haha). And I do remember sipping an isotonic sports drink during labour number one, because the taste of water just didn’t go down well.
  4. Non perfumed shower gel. That post birth shower is HEAVEN. But it can sting. You probably don’t want to go tantalising yourself with The Original Source’s Tea Tree and Mint shower gel.
  5. BIG pants (and a few pairs of them). Size up. Buy black, cheap ones. And one week in you’ll wonder what you ever saw in a thong.
  6. Sanitary pads. You will need these whether you have a vaginal birth or a c-section (not everyone knows you still bleed when you have a c-section). You can buy fancy maternity pads but these are basically more expensive versions of sanitary pads. Get a few packs of cheap, extra thick sanitary pads and layer them up. It’s all about the cushioning.
  7. Nightdress/loose PJs. For after you’ve given birth. Make sure this is appropriate. Don’t do what I did and buy a non-maternity one when you’re just five months pregnant. Because that final four months makes a HUGE difference. Suddenly, your decent nightie has crossed the line from appropriate to the equivalent of some obscene crotchless creation from Ann Summers. No one wants to see that on the maternity ward.
  8. Nappies and a pack of wipes. Another minefield. How do you know how much your baby is going to weigh? What does the broad weight range mean? Basically, one size fits all. Just buy the newborn size and you’ll be fine. If your baby turns out to be bigger than 13lbs someone can go and get you bigger nappies. (If you’ve just delivered a 13lbs baby I’m thinking you’ll have more pressing things on your mind than what size nappy your baby is wearing. Ouch.)
  9. A couple of newborn babygros, short sleeved vests and a hat. You don’t need to go overboard here. Your baby’s just spent nine months tucked up warmly inside you so, regardless of the season, they’ll need a long sleeved, long legged babygro to start with. Possibly layered with a short sleeved vest underneath. And a spare set incase they poo all over the first. THAT’S IT. If you end up staying in hospital longer than you anticipated, someone can get you more clothes. I actually read a list that said my baby needed a ‘going home outfit.’ What? Where was she going that she needed an outfit? So I had cardigans, socks (socks? My kids still don’t wear socks) and a selection of hats. The irony is that because my hospital bag never made it out of the car, my daughter’s first hat was a piece of tubigrip with a knot in the end. She looked like she had a condom on her head. My point? There’s always a way around everything. Things don’t turn out how you imagined. And that’s ok.
  10. Tracksuit bottoms, loose top, hairband. To go home in. If you want to change. Second time around I was discharged so quickly that I actually just went home in my PJs and the jumper I had on when I went in. Also, if your hair isn’t already tied back, take a hair band so you can avoid any post-birth, disastrous hair pictures (like mine).
  11. Carseat and a baby blanket. To get you all home safely.

Stuff you might think you need but really don’t.

  1. Make up. You won’t care what you look like. I promise you. You’ll be too busy rejoicing that it’s over and you and your baby are safe to put on mascara.
  2. Everything else. Often, we use STUFF as a focus. It diverts our attention from the real task at hand. We convince ourselves we need so many things in order for something to happen. But often this is a way of channelling the fear that we so understandably have, especially about something as big and unknown as childbirth. Trust yourself, trust your body, breathe and you have everything you need.

A note.

If you’re going in for an induction or elective c-section, your hospital bag requirements will be different to the above as you could be in for a few days. (My friend who has had two c-sections says get big pants and high waisted PJs/leggings/tracksuit bottoms so as not to irritate the scar.) Similarly, if your labour ends up taking an unprecedented turn and you end up with complications, again your needs will change. Hopefully you’ll have a partner, family member or friend on hand to help you out if this should happen. This list is to simplify the process for those that anticipate a straightforward birth because it can all be so overwhelming that we end up focusing all our mental energy on the STUFF and not the actual process. Whatever scenario you give birth in, if you start moving your own lamp, rug and bedside table onto the maternity ward, you’ve gone too far. Good luck mums-to-be, you can (and will) do it. However it happens.

I hope this helps someone not freak out like I once did. Feel free to add your own ‘essentials’ below. There’s lots of real post-birth support and reassurance like this in The New Mum’s Notebook, available now for £20 (plus P&P). More of me on Facebook and Instagram.

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    8 thoughts on “The REAL hospital bag checklist

    1. Bethan Jones

      This is a pretty spot on list! Only things I’d add are cereal/brunch/chocolate bars and some flavoured drinks. I know everyone says that post-birth tea and toast is the best thing you’ll ever taste, but after my daughter’s first act of pooing all over me (which I needed the help of a midwife to fully remove!) I really just wanted some chocolate. And I’d disagree with the make-up (for first child at least) – your whole world has just changed in one final push and I found something strangely comforting and familiar in applying eyeliner.

      1. Amy RansomAmy Ransom Post author

        Thanks Bethan. Yes you’re right, flavoured drinks are good! I remember having an Isotonic orange drink the first time. Second and third time I pretty much had nothing. I don’t think we can always know what we’re going to want/need but I do think we need to simplify it. I was so unbelievably overwhelmed when I stumbled across those huge lists for the hospital bag the first time around and I guess my experience is based on how little we can manage with, as the bag never made it out of the car! Really interesting to hear about the eyeliner; I can imagine how that might be comforting x

    2. Steph Burnett

      A hand towel – especially if you’re having an elective c-section – roll it into a sausage and hold it firmly against your scar whenever you need to move about – trust me, you’ll be thanking that hand towel for the rest of your life!

    3. vickie

      I found proper maternity more comfortable than sanitary pads – be careful sanitary pads don’t have the plastic weave to catch on stitches…ouch

    4. Kate Aldridge

      I took my own pillow with me which was a wonderful comfort whilst being induced, also had my husbands jumper to cling tightly to when I was on my own the first night waiting for the induction pessary to work. I totally agree with the TENS machine, it helped me a lot! Wish Id seen this list in April this year when I was panicking about packing!

    5. Sally

      Paper pants. Makes everything so much easier, take the lot off in one easy go, straight in the bin. Fresh pair, fresh pad.
      Also, definitely steer clear of smoothies, I had my favourite strawberry and banana smoothie in labour, it was like trying to swallow thick goop!


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