If you're at the end of your first pregnancy, you're likely overwhelmed with advice on what to pack for the hospital. Make the mistake of doing an Internet search to answer this question, and you'll fall down into a deep well of conflicting information. Take everyone's advice and you'll end up lugging so much stuff to and from the hospital that you won't have room for the baby!
So who should you ask? Nurses.
I've worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 22 years, and I'm constantly mystified by the excessive amounts of stuff that first-time moms bring with them to the hospital. All bright-eyed and excited upon admittance, and then exhausted and sore upon discharge.
Trust me, that stuff you thought you needed is a straight-up burden when it comes time to pack up and leave.
What do you absolutely need to pack for the hospital?
Toiletries and a car seat. Seriously, that's it. And in actuality, we have toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, combs and brushes if you didn't bring your own. Patients come in all the time directly from their doctor's offices with nothing more than whatever happens to be in their purses.
However, it can be nice to have some comforts of home. I polled a large number of labor and delivery nurses and this is what they say to bring (and not bring) to the hospital.
Bring this stuff
A car seat, your insurance information and the name of your pediatrician. These are the only things you absolutely must bring to the hospital. I'm always amazed by people who schlep in enough stuff to scale Everest, yet forgot to bring the name of their pediatrician. The hospital will notify your pediatrician's office after the baby is born, and need that name in case there are medical issues. And you'll do yourself a favor to practice installing that car seat ahead of time.
Lip balm and lotion. Hospitals are very dry environments, and labor is hard work. Forget your lip balm and you'll be miserable.
A single outfit in both 0-3 month and 3-6 month sizes. You never know how big your baby will be, so come prepared. Why just a single outfit? Hospital babies are kept in just a diaper and a shirt to accommodate vital signs and frequent skin-to-skin time. The outfit is for the ride home.
One baby blanket, two if it's winter. This is to tuck around the baby in the car seat.
Two comfortable pillows in non-white pillow cases. Hospital pillows are notoriously dreadful, so you'll be more comfortable if you bring your own ones from home. Why non-white pillowcases? There can be a lot of quick activity in labor, and you don't want to risk your pillows getting lost in the shuffle. Plus, they'll come in handy when it comes time to prop your baby up for breastfeeding. If you have a C-section, a pillow is very helpful to splint against the incision during the bumpy ride home.
Pajamas or a nightgown that opens in the front. Unbuttoning your top is much more conducive to breastfeeding than lifting your shirt or being completely bare. Although the hospital will provide a gown, it's nice to wear something of your own during your post-partum stay.
Slippers or flip flops. We do our best to keep our hospital rooms as hygienic as possible, but trust me when I say that you don't want to go barefoot. Flip flops are handy for showering both while in labor and then afterwards.
A pacifier. Maternity wards are pro-breastfeeding and we aren't allowed to dispense pacifiers, as they're associated with nipple confusion. So if you want one, you'll have to bring your own.
A change of clothes for your partner, including something that's comfortable to sleep in. Also, if your partner is planning to get into the jacuzzi with you during labor, I beg of you to bring swim trunks for him. Your labor nurse is unfazed by your nudity, but only yours. Please . . .
Pony tail holders. You'll likely spend a fair amount of time in bed, and pigtails are the best way to avoid a sweaty nest of bedhead.
Snacks for dad. Although hospital cafeterias are good about packing food to go, it's better to have some food on hand. Granola bars, crackers and other shelf-stable snacks can keep a partner going when they want to stay by your side.
A comfy outfit to wear when you leave the hospital. You'll still be big after delivery, so don't be surprised if your pre-pregnancy clothing doesn't fit. Think loose yoga pants and slip on shoes.
Electronic chargers. Your phone is going to be buzzing up a storm when your friends and family find about about the baby, so make sure you can keep everything at 100%.
Entertainment. A pack of cards and a book can come in handy for a labor that may last for days. Especially if you're being induced.
Don't bring this stuff
A Boppy pillow. Not only are they enormous, but we have breastfeeding pillows on hand, plus those hospital pillows actually work great for this function. You'll mostly be breastfeeding while reclined, especially if you've had a C-section, and Boppys only work for breastfeeding while sitting upright. Save it for home.
A birthing ball. We already have birthing balls in multiple sizes, so leave this enormous object at home as well. You'll be happy when it comes time to pack up and head out.
Scented items such as essential oil diffusers or candles. Not only are open flames forbidden in a hospital setting, (oxygen is highly flammable) but what you might consider to be a soothing scent might be an allergen trigger to those around you. These smells linger once you've left your room and can even be a problem for those outside your room. Most hospitals are scent-free zones so please leave your lavender oil at home.
Anything that plugs in beyond your electronics chargers. Hospitals are extremely detailed about fire prevention, as well you want them to be! If it plugs in, leave it at home.
A million random visitors. Birth is a very private experience, and having endless numbers of people at the hospital can be a barrier to your coping capabilities and breastfeeding success. Of course your family and friends are excited about your new addition, but there will be plenty of opportunities to visit you at home once you're recovered. (I recommend that you let everyone beyond immediate family know this ahead of time to avoid hurt feelings.) It's not uncommon for new moms to dangerously lengthen the time between breastfeeding sessions because of an endless trickle of visitors.
My hospital is currently under flu restrictions, and I liked the way this one sign was worded:
"Visitors to the maternity unit are limited to those essential to a patient's emotional well-being and care."
Are your husband's co-workers, neighbors and extended family essential to your well being? Consider having them wait to visit with you until you're back home.
What should visitors bring?
Food for your partner. Takeout from your favorite restaurant can be a real lifesaver for someone who may have been surviving for days on granola bars and bland hospital food. A fresh hot coffee can be a refreshing treat as well.
A small gift for the older sibling. No child is immune to feeling jealous of the attention that a newborn receives, so these gifts can be very special.
But visitors should not bring...
Latex balloons. Hospitals are latex-free zones, so don't waste your money on these highly allergic items. Frankly, don't bring any balloons, as they're a cumbersome item when a new parent should be 100% focused on their sweet baby.
Huge bags of baby gifts. Yes, those baby outfits, teddy bears and blankets are adorable beyond belief, but they needlessly add to the burdensome amount of stuff that sleep-deprived moms and dads are already dealing with. This may seem overly strict, but watch a few parents receive human-sized stuffed animals, and you'll see my point.
Maternity nurses are your best friend, your advocate, your champion through the amazing journey of birth. We'll provide everything you need, from slipper socks to forgotten toiletries. We've seen it all, and we want what's best for you and your baby. You give birth to your new baby, we'll provide the rest.