I'm nearing the due date for my fourth baby and it's time to start packing my hospital bag. With the benefit of hindsight, I know that the last thing I want to do is over pack since I do not want a delivery or recover room strewn with things I won't use and, more importantly, don't' want too much to wash and unpack when my newly-expanded family returns home from the hospital exhausted with a newborn.
One big lesson I learned after having my first child is that what you will need for the hospital can be divided into three categories: 1) what you will need for labor; 2) what you will need for recovery; and 3: what you will need for the baby. The more you can keep these items separate the happier you will be.
Michelle Cohen, a Washington, DC-area Doula, pre-and post-natal yoga instructor, and natural childbirth education has five tips for what to pack in your bag to make labor more comfortable, whether you are planning a natural birth or planning on getting an epidural.
I like to encourage my clients to think about the 5 senses (touch, taste, sight, smell and sound) and how sensory pleasures can enhance your birth experience. While at first glance these things may seem trivial, they take up little room in the bag and can make a big difference. These thoughtful touches not only change the tone of your birth and serve as wonderful comfort measures, but can impact how your birth unfolds. These are a few "extras," in addition to all the practical items that you need, that can help make your birth experience more memorable, pleasurable and meaningful.
For labor, the items that will definitely be going in my bag are:
• Birth Plan: It's a good idea to make sure your care provider has your birth plan as part of your file but it's a good idea to plan on bringing a couple of extra copies to hand to your nurses. If you are not sure where to start, or just want to be sure you have covered all your bases, check out the EarthMama Birth Plan which provides a range of choices regarding everything from pain management to desired length of hospital stay.
• Insurance information: It's not fair that a woman in active labor has to provide insurance information but in many hospitals it's required protocol. Even if you've pre-registered make sure your insurance card and ID are in an easily-accessible place.
• Music and a good set of speakers: Some Moms prefer to create a hospital playlist with soothing songs. Some Moms, like me, prefer to skip around their entire music collection depending on their mood. However you plan your music be sure to bring along good speakers. The Beats Pill is a very compact wireless speaker that even comes with its own travel case. As a bonus, it is Bluetooth enabled so you can make hands-free calls to friends and family to keep them updated.
• Comfort measures: Whether you are planning a natural birth or are planning on getting an epidural there are some things that can make you more comfortable. I plan on brining a heating pad, sock filled with rice to heat and use as a massager, and natural, organic EarthMama Angel Baby lotion scented with vanilla orange for relaxing foot rubs and a pleasant scent.
• Stay connected: Remember to pack your phone, tablet, camera and any other items you will use to stay connected to friends and family about news of your labor and new arrival. Pack the chargers too! The Samsung Galaxy Tab Nook is a great all-in-one device that will serve you well at the hospital and beyond so you only need to keep track of one device. It has full browsing capabilities, along with front and rear cameras, and importantly, a great screen for videos and reading since you will be doing a lot of sitting around holding a baby in the coming days and months and need an easy way to keep yourself occupied while you are doing it.
• Optional: In addition to the other Doula-recommended items there are many other items you can bring such as your own clothes (expect these to get ruined but they may make you more comfortable), your own pillows with colored pillowcases so they don't get mixed-up with the hospitals' pillows (again, these may get soiled so use old cases),and other birthing tools such as a birthing ball or bathing suit if you think may want to use the shower during labor.
After labor you may find yourself exhausted and exhilarated. For the hour or so after birth you won't think about anything but your brand-new little love. Then, your baby will drift off to sleep and will realize that you really want to take care of yourself and it's time to open up the part of your hospital bag reserved for after labor.
• Personal items: Labor is hard, messy work so once you have enough energy and are able, you will want to shower. Hospitals will provide shampoo and soap but they are generally not what you are used to at home and be laden with chemicals that can transfer to your baby so I recommend bringing your own. You will hold your baby a lot during those first days, much of it skin-to-skin, making natural products important. I plan on using the same soap I will bring for my baby's first bath, EarthMama AngelBaby Shampoo and Body Wash, which is completely natural, mostly organic castile soap.
• Clothing: After you clean-up it will be time to put on some of your own clothing. If you are planning on nursing a breastfeeding-friendly nightgown is a must. I'm bringing a Boob Nursing Nightdress because it's made from organic cotton that won't transfer any chemicals to my baby's new skin, it offers the ability to nurse easily, and is cute and discreet enough to wear when friends and family come to meet the newest addition. Leggings will also be in my bag in case the hospital is cold. You may also want to bring underwear you don't mind getting ruined in place of using the mesh ones provided by the hospital. Also, remember to pack a going home outfit for yourself, keeping in mind you will still look about four months pregnant when you leave!
• Help for your body: Although it's not a widely discussed topic, you will be sore "down there" after labor. Some things that can help soothe you are EarthMama Bottom Balm and New Mama Bottom Spray made especially for post-partum Moms. Also, the NoseFrieda Fridet ButtWasher is just the right angle to help keep post-partum Moms clean and works far better than the peribottles hospitals provide.
• Nursing Supplies: Whether you are planning on nursing or not your milk will come in. There are a few things you can do to make it more comfortable. EarthMama Booby Tubes are natural and can be heated or cooled to relieve discomfort and prevent clogged ducts and Natural Nipple Butter can be used to soothe and help with any dryness. Also essential are breast pads to prevent milk from leaking through your clothes. I prefer reusable ones, such as Boob natural silk washable pads, that are thin enough to hide under a good nursing bra, which you should also pack!
The most fun part to pack is the baby's bag. When dealing with anything baby it is essential to stay organized and I will be bringing my carefully chosen StorkSak Oliva bag to the hospital packed with baby essentials. I love this bag because it's easy to clean and has tons of pockets to help me stay organized, even in a sleep-deprived state.
• Baby's First Bath: If you choose to give your baby his first bath at the hospital you may want to consider bringing your own soap and shampoo. I'll be packing a travel-sized bottle of EarthMama shampoo and body wash castile soap made with organic ingredients. As a bonus, I can use this for myself as well.
• Baby's Bottom: Even brand-new bottoms can get sore so I will be packing Angel Baby organic Baby Bottom Balm. I plan on using hospital-provided diapers but if you have specific preferences pack some of your own.
• Baby's comfort: Stuffed noses and gas happen. Hospitals have standard-issue nasal aspirators but these are frustrating to use and don't work very well. The NoseFrida is a great alternative that works quickly and very well. The Windi is a Swedish-invented way to relieve gas with a combination of massage and a small catheter designed for just this purpose.
• Blankets and Clothing: Babies spend a lot of time swaddled, starting in their first hours. Adian + Anais muslin blankets are favored by Moms everywhere for their prefect size, incredible softness, breathability, and sophisticated designs that are so much cuter than hospital-provided blankets. Every baby needs a cute outfit to go home in! There will be tons of photos of this moment. Moreover, many parents save their baby's first outfit so it should be a good one. PAIGELAURN BABY makes baby clothes that are among the softest available and are adorable.
• Getting Home: Most hospitals will not let you carry your baby out of the hospital and will require your baby to leave in a car seat. I'll be bringing along my stroller frame, the ultra-light Joovy Roo, to help get my baby from my hospital room to the car. Also, because I'm having a winter baby I plan on packing my adorable 7 AM car seat cocoon which does not use any dangerous padding in the car seat itself and fits snugly over the car seat to ensure baby stays warm on his first trip home!