Hospital Bag Checklist: The RN Guide to What You Actually Need

June 12, 2021

written by: Lo Mansfield, MSN, RN

I’m Lo.
The nitty gritty - because I've been there. The middle of the night Googling - I get it. The answers to questions you didn't even know you had - I've got you.
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Guess what? When you Google “hospital bag checklist” do you know how many results come up? About 14,000,000. Yep. 14 million. So, I’m not here to tell you that I have all of these secrets or surprises that no one else knows about. Clearly, it’s all out there somewhere. But I do think that after having delivered 3 babies of my own AND watching thousands of women bring in so much stuff, I may have some helpful suggestions for what is and ISN’T needed or some things to consider while you prepare.

Okay, I know this feels a little counterintuitive, but let’s actually start here, with the things you may be able to pull out of that bag BEFORE you start filling it up. If you want to print the list off, click HERE to download or just click on the image below.

What Not to Pack

A lot of my patients brought in a ton of food and drinks. Unless you have specific dietary needs or preferences, many hospitals have room service, restaurants, a coffee shop, etc. Specific to the labor + delivery floor, we also have cheese, yogurts, different juices and sodas, pre-made sandwiches, toast with jam, butter, honey, or peanut butter, saltines and graham crackers, broths, and popsicles stocked for women who need a quick snack or pick me up.

I think you can skip a DSLR camera or video camera. Unless you are a photographer or this is a specific passion of yours, our phones take some pretty amazing pictures and videos now.

Slippers – hang on, hear me out. If we’re being honest, when we bleed post birth if runs down our legs pretty quickly when we stand up. It’s almost guaranteed it’ll get your socks, your slippers, and the floor at some point. I leave my fuzzy, comfy slippers at home.

Skip a stack of cute baby clothes. If you’re comfortable with it, that little one is going to be skin to skin and nursing a lot and they’ll get assessed a least once or twice a shift by your care providers – it’s best if they’re only in a diaper for these things.

Don’t bring your own birthing or yoga balls. We have 3 different kinds and sizes on our unit for laboring women. We also have all peri care items, diapers and wipes for baby, pumps if needed and nursing pillows.

If you have clothes you care about, don’t bring them. There’s a good amount of bleeding post delivery and it can be impossible to guarantee that you won’t get it on your clothes. Also, most of us look about 20 weeks pregnant when we leave – bring clothes that will fit that 20 weeks pregnant looking body COMFORTABLY.

Hospital Bag Essentials

After packing a bag 3 times, I can truly say I’ve used all of these items every single time. I’d encourage you to remember the amount of time you may be admitted too. Vaginal deliveries stay 24-48 hours after birth while a cesarean delivery usually stays 2-3 days after birth.

FOR MAMA: If you want to labor in a bra, make sure it’s one that opens in the front. Sports bras aren’t great for skin to skin. Some women who want to labor in tub or shower also switch to a swim top. After birth, I always pack nursing pajamas, a bra and/or tank, comfy (dark) pajama-y pants or bottoms, and a thin robe or open sweater. When you change to drive home, think comfy, that you can still be bleeding, and that you’ll still (could) be pretty swollen and pregnant looking (ie sweats, joggers, a loose dress, etc).

A pair or two of comfy socks is also nice, as are slip on “shower-able” shoes. I actually recommend not doing flip flops and doing slides instead, so you can wear those sock and shoes together.

A couple miscellaneous things that have always been really important to me? An extra long phone cord, chapstick, and nipple cream (the hospital often has a sample, but I pack my own just in case).

Lastly, BASIC toiletries are nice. I don’t ever want to spend a ton of time in the bathroom away from that baby – so mascara, tinted moisturizer, chapstick, toothbrush, deodorant, dry shampoo, and a hairbrush serve me well.

FOR BABY: They do NOT need much. Firstly, don’t forget the carseat. If it has a base, have it installed ahead of time. Make sure the straps are in the newborn setting. Because of safety concerns, the hospital personnel is NOT expected. to do these things for you. As for clothing, I bring one going home outfit, a hat or headband, and a swaddle blanket for pictures and tucking them in for the trip home. (The hospital always provides hats, but I like to bring something more special).

Things to Consider

You’ll likely see all of the following items (and more) on lots of other lists. They’re definitely things to consider, but I’d just encourage you to remember that everything that comes in has to be schlepped back out – and then put away at home – and all of that feels bigger and more exhausting when that new baby is now in your arms.

The hospitals also send you with a decent amount of stuff too (leftover peri care items, diapers, wipes, paperwork, etc.), so your pile of things to load up and take home will get bigger too.

Okay, I’ll be brief here.

  • Cute swaddle, hat or headband for baby – honestly? Not necessary. This is totally preferential.
  • Your own pillow
  • Breast pump
  • Blue Tooth speaker
  • Stroller (usually I saw these used in the loading up/going home process)
  • Your own towels
  • Delivery gown
  • Mini fan (yes, the hospital often has fans. But they’re big and bulky and obnoxious. And this little guy? It’ll clip right to your bed AND work on your stroller later).

Full disclosure? I’ve never brought my own pump, a stroller, or my own towels. But I DO choose to pack all of these other things.

No one is going to stop you at the doors if you bring too much stuff. This is your birth, your baby, your body, your story. But I do think that when we are finally ready to head home with that precious little, all of the extra stuff to take care of can feel extra exhausting and overwhelming – and I’d love to avoid that for you if we can.

Cheering for you always,


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About the Author

Lo Mansfield MSN, RNC-OB, is a specialty-certified registered nurse in obstetrics, postpartum, and fetal monitoring who is passionate about families understanding their integral role in their own stories. She is the owner of The Labor Mama and creator of the Your Body, Your Birth courses. She is also a mama of three, a University of Washington graduate (Go Dawgs), and is currently an expat in Haarlem, Netherlands. 

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