The Ultimate Hospital Bag Checklist (from a labor nurse)

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. Isn’t that insane? I’m not here to tell you that I have all of these secrets or surprises that no one else knows about. Clearly, all of the ideas are out there somewhere. But I do think that after having delivered 3 babies of my own AND watching thousands of you bring in so much stuff, I may have some helpful suggestions for what should and shouldn’t be in your hospital bag.

When should you pack your hospital bag?

I think you should have your hospital bag ready to go by week 36, unless there is a reason that your baby may be born earlier. It’s very likely that your care team will want baby to stay inside until at least week 36, so this is a good time to be ready by. If you want to start earlier, you can pack the things that can go in there that you don’t need at home, and then have a list of what needs to be added when it truly is go-time.

What not to pack in your hospital bag

This might feel a little counterintuitive, but we are going to start with what not to pack. These are the things I recommend you pull out of that bag before you start filling it up.

  • 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. On the labor + delivery floor, we also had cheese, yogurts, different juices and sodas, pre-made sandwiches, toast (and toppings), saltines and graham crackers, broths, and popsicles stocked for those who needed 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, your phone takes 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 the blood will 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. One outfit to go home or take some pictures really is enough!
  • Don’t bring your own birthing or yoga balls. We had 3 different kinds and sizes on our unit for those in labor.
  • Skip your own pericare supplies. We stocked 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 is 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 for mom and baby

After packing a bag 3 times, I can truly say I’ve used all of these items every single time. As you pack, I’d encourage you to remember the amount of time you may be at the hospital too. Vaginal deliveries usually stay 24-48 hours after birth and a cesarean delivery usually stays 2-4 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).

  • Bodily has some of my absolute favorite bras. I would recommend them time and again. You can use the code: LABORMAMA10 for 10% off $90+.
  • Auden bras are also beloved by SO many (including me) and are really affordable. You can find them at Target.
  • Sunflower Motherhood and Cozy Earth are my favorite button up PJ sets. So buttery and soft. Use code: THELABORMAMA40 for 40% off at Cozy Earth and/or code: LABORMAMA for 15% off anything at Sunflower Motherhood.

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).

Want to check out my discount code page and see where you can snag some stuff for you and baby? That’s always here for you.

Other things you could pack in your hospital bag

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 encourage you to remember that everything that comes in has to be schlepped back out – and then put away at home. Those tasks can feel bigger and more exhausting when that new baby is in your arms.

A note: The hospitals usually send you home with a decent amount of stuff too (like leftover peri care items, diapers, wipes, paperwork, etc.). This means your pile of things to load up and take home will get bigger too.

Extra things you could pack

  • 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. It’s the best!
  • Egg light: These are awesome for the nursery at home too. We are crazy about ours!
  • Portable sound machine: This can be so nice for trying to get some rest in noisy hospital! We’ve been using this one for 6+ years.

Full disclosure: I have never brought my own pump, a stroller, or my own towels. But I do choose to pack all of the other things I just mentioned.

Would you like a copy of my full checklist, including all of the extras and what your partner might want to pack too? Click the button below and it’s yours!

The takeaway on packing your hospital bag

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 you 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!

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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 The Labor Mama online 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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