Before I went into hospital to have Max, I read just about every hospital bag checklist I could get my hands on, and then set about buying every single item they recommended. Seriously, there was a period of a few weeks last autumn where there seemed to be deliveries arriving every day, and every single one of them was something else for my hospital bag – much to Terry’s amusement/disgust.
I’ll just say here that even I knew I was going way over the top with this, but I had SO much anxiety about going into hospital, and my main coping mechanism for my anxiety is to be as prepared as possible, so I decided to just go with it and over-pack to my heart’s content. Which is how I came to rock up at the maternity wing in the early hours of December 29th, toting this little lot:
Suitcase and holdall for me, tan changing bag for the baby. (And, of course, it was Terry who actually did the carrying: I think I might have wheeled the suitcase, but my memories of this time are pretty hazy, tbh…) I know some people prefer to just take the essentials, and then leave a second bag at home, or in the car, or somewhere else their partner can easily pick it up if it’s needed, but, as I said, my anxiety is best kept in check by adopting the Boy Scout’s motto, so I took absolutely EVERYTHING with me into the hospital, and, yeah, I didn’t use even half of it. Figures.
What I learned from this was that, not only is every birth different, every hospital is different, too. One hospital bag checklist I’d read, for instance, had said I’d need to take my own towels, because the hospital wouldn’t have any; another had instructed me to bring a sieve – yes, a SIEVE – so I could clean out the pool if I had a water birth. I, of course, was having an elective c-section, so I figured it was probably safe enough to leave the sieve at home, and my midwife had assured me that yes, the hospital would have towels, so I didn’t bring those either.
By that point, however, I’d read one hospital bag checklist too many, and had ended up slightly freaked out by the descriptions of communal bathrooms closely resembling abattoirs, and being made to clean out my own birth pool. (Probably sounding v v entitled here, but I’d just assumed they’d have, you know, STAFF for that kind of thing, rather than making a woman who’d just given birth get out the elbow grease and start scrubbing. This made me wonder if I’d perhaps be made to clean out the operating theatre after my section, or, I don’t know, iron my bedsheets after using them, or something.)
(Spoiler alert: no, I didn’t. OBVIOUSLY.)
In the end, though, I think I got pretty lucky, because, not only was I not made to do any cleaning during my stay, my hospital also seemed to provide absolutely everything I needed: I could very easily have turned up in just the clothes I stood up in, and it would’ve been fine, honestly. It was obvious from all of those lists I read that not every hospital does that, though… which makes a hospital bag checklist a little bit redundant, I guess?
(It’d also worth pointing out here that packing for a planned c-section is a little different from packing for a vaginal birth, as you skip the whole labour bit, and proceed straight to the aftermath…)
Still, me being me, I’m going to write one anyway: rather than just doing a straight up hospital bag checklist, though, I’m going to tell you what I packed, whether or not I used it, and what I wish I’d taken instead. So, here we go…
My Hospital Bag Checklist:
Two nighties in dark colours (for the BLOODSTAINS, URGH)
One pair of pyjamas
One pair of maternity leggings
Longline tank (to wear with leggings)
Loose sweater (to wear with leggings)
Lightweight dressing gown
Two pairs of thick socks
One pair of slippers
One pair of rubber flip-flops (To wear in the showers, which I was told would be filthy, and running with blood…)
One of the most difficult aspect of packing my hospital bag was the fact that I’d no idea how long I was packing FOR. I knew the plan was for me to leave the next day, but I also knew that plan could very easily go awry, so although I hoped to only stay one night, I packed for longer than that, just in case.
As it turned out, I DID only stay one night, and all I needed was one nightie, and my slippers. I had a catheter inserted during the surgery, and it didn’t come out until the next morning, so I found a nightie was definitely more practical than pyjamas would have been. I’d dutifully bought dark coloured nightwear because more than one hospital bag checklist I’d read had told me I’d be bleeding so heavily that all of my nightwear would be horribly stained, so it would be best to stick to dark colours, so the stains wouldn’t show as easily as they would on lighter ones.
I was pretty horrified by this information but I needn’t have worried, because – TMI ALERT – the rivers of blood I’d been warned about just didn’t materialise, so there were no stains to deal with, thankfully.
While we’re on the subject of heavy bleeding, I’d also been told to bring rubber flip-flops, as the communal bathrooms/showers in the hospital would likely have blood and all kinds of other gross stuff on the floors: GAG. I’m not sure if this is common in communal wards, but, luckily for me, I got a private room with its own bathroom: it was cleaned immediately before I went into it, and again the next morning, so, happily, I was NOT up to my ankles in other people’s bodily fluids every time I went to the bathroom, and didn’t need the flip-flops. (I did throw my slippers away afterwards, though: they might LOOK clean, but hospital floors are pretty gross, and I didn’t want to track germs all over my house when I got home…)
I packed leggings and tops so that, in the event of a longer hospital stay, I’d have something to wear that was comfortable enough to sleep in, but would still feel semi-repectable when I had visitors. I had a huge amount of anxiety around the idea of being in a “public” place in my nightwear: the thought of it just made me feel really vulnerable and uncomfortable, and this was my way of preparing for that. As it turned out, my room felt private enough for me not to worry about being in my nightclothes and when my visitors turned up, I was still so euphoric following the birth that I really didn’t care what I was wearing.
Finally, every hospital bag checklist I’d read had banged on about THICK SOCKS, and how I’d have to make sure I took THICK SOCKS, because I would need THICK SOCKS. I’m actually not a fan of wearing anything on my feet in bed at the best of times, but I packed them anyway (BECAUSE THE LISTS TOLD ME TO), and didn’t even take them out of my bag: the hospital was just SO HOT that thick socks were the last thing I’d have wanted to wear: in fact, it was so warm that I didn’t even need my dressing gown, which also stayed in my bag for the duration of my stay!
MAKEUP & PERSONAL CARE
Toothpaste and toothbrush
Selection of miniature shampoos & shower gels etc
Vanity case with makeup
Hairbrush and hair elastics
Eye makeup remover
Toothbrush and basic toiletries
Hairbrush & elastics (There’s a hair tie on my wrist in almost all of our photos: GOD.)
About 3 items of makeup
Everyone told me I wouldn’t care what I looked like, and so wouldn’t need any makeup etc. I was 100% sure that I WOULD care, though, so I packed it anyway… I had it in my head that, as soon as they wheeled me back to my room after the surgery, I’d put some makeup on, ready for my visitors to arrive. Instead, I spent that time gazing in awe at my new baby, and, well, having a migraine. GOD. Needless to say, makeup was the last thing on my mind at that stage: I did put some on before leaving hospital the next day, but it was just brow pencil, blusher and a bit of concealer. I looked horrific, but I also FELT fairly horrific that morning (I got really nauseous right before I left the hospital), so, yeah, I didn’t particularly care.
CLOTHES & SHOES
1 pair of stretch maternity trousers with a high waist
1 pair of sweatpants
About three loose sweaters (WHY THOUGH? WHY?)
A couple of maternity bras
At least 10 pairs of giant “granny pants” (Primark’s finest)
One pair of ballet flats in my usual size
One pair of ballet flats one size up (because everyone said my feet would swell)
The clothes I arrived in
Maybe 2 pairs of the giant knickers?
One of the trickier aspects of packing my hospital bag was working out which clothes to take for leaving hospital (and, I guess, for sitting around in it if we ended up staying longer than anticipated). I don’t mean this in a fashion sense, by the way: it was just that I had no idea what kind of shape/size I’d be when I finally left the hospital, so it was really hard to know what to pack.
I was particularly worried about shoes here: SO many people had told me my feet would swell up to gigantic proportions after the birth (And would NEVER GO BACK DOWN AGAIN, OMG), that I had visions of myself having to leave the hospital barefoot, because I couldn’t get any of my shoes on. Luckily, a few months earlier, I’d ordered a pair of cheap ballet flats online, which had turned out to be too big: with everything that was going on at the time (Terry’s mum was in hospital, and was really sick…) I hadn’t gotten round to returning them, so I threw those into the bag too, thinking they’d probably fit the massively swollen feet that everyone was so insistent I should expect.
In the end, of course, I think my feet were the only part of me that WEREN’T swollen when I left hospital: I still looked very, very pregnant, so none of my carefully chosen clothes and shoes made it out of the suitcase, and I left hospital in the clothes I’d arrived in, which were a pair of maternity leggings and a sweater. One thing I would say here is that, if you’ve had a c-section, you’re going to want to make sure that, whatever you pack, it has a relatively high waistband, that won’t press against your scar: my maternity leggings were fine for this, but, of course, leggings aren’t easy to get into when you’ve had abdominal surgery, as you don’t really want to be bending down to pull them on. That’s why I’d packed my loose (high-waisted) trousers and ballet flats – I thought they’d be easier to slip on and off than boots and leggings, but I was forgetting I was giving birth in the middle of winter: I really didn’t fancy going outside in cropped pants and ballet flats, so I just went with the leggings and boots. It wasn’t too much of an issue, although Terry had to help me on with my socks and boots, and I do wish I’d taken something else to go home in – I’m just not really sure what that would’ve been!
Phone, charger etc
Everything except the ear plugs: the hospital was really noisy, but I wanted to be able to listen for the baby, so I didn’t use them.
When I went into hospital the day before my surgery for my clerking appointment, they told me to bring some snacks with me next day: they were very insistent that I’d be absolutely starving (You have to fast from 2am the night before), and would also need something to give me energy. I really didn’t think this would be the case: when I’m nervous/excited I can’t even think about food, and that was definitely the case here. I did take a couple of cereal bars with me, and Terry made me eat one of them either in the recovery room, or just after we got back to the room, but if he hadn’t practically force-fed me, I wouldn’t even have thought about food.
Speaking of Terry, as he was going to be staying overnight, he also had a bag with him, and he packed the DSLR and GoPro in that (Yes, he GoPro’d the birth. No, you don’t see anything gross: it’s mostly just a close-up of my face, going, “I CAN’T DO IT, I CAN’T DO IT, I THINK I’M GOING TO DIE!” One for Max’s wedding day, then, for sure…): if he hadn’t, I’ve have packed those too, although, honestly, we mostly used our phones for photos, and that’s one of my biggest regrets – I really wish we had better quality photos and video, but that was down to us being so overwhelmed, rather than bad packing, obviously.
2 packs of maternity pads
1 pack of breast pads
About 2 maternity pads – the rest were provided by the hospital
One of the things that had worried me most about the hospital stay was the fact that, from what I’d read, I could expect to spend it practically drowning in bodily fluids. One hospital bag checklist I read told me I’d need AT LEAST 40 maternity pads (FORTY! AT LEAST!), while another simply said that however many I THOUGHT I’d need, I’d ACTUALLY need double that – maybe even more.
So, yeah, I dutifully took in around 40 maternity pads, and I used about two. The hospital did provide me with some, too, but, as I said, my bleeding was pretty light – to be honest, I kind of wish I’d just taken regular pads, rather than the mattress-like maternity ones, but then again, I don’t regret over-packing here, because obviously there’s no way of knowing in advance how much bleeding you’ll have, and if it HAD been as heavy as I’d been led to believe, or I’d had to say in hospital longer (Bear in mind that although I only ended up staying one night, I didn’t know that was going to be the case when I went in!) I’d have been grateful for my over-packing. Or some of it.
As for the breast pads, meanwhile, it was the same kind of story: they were on every hospital bag checklist I read, and everyone seemed to agree that you couldn’t have too many of them, so I packed a full box… which remains unopened to this day. My milk didn’t come in until three days after Max was born (Which seems to be fairly typical), and when it did, there wasn’t enough of it to need them. The box, however, was quite bulky, so I really wish I’d left it at home, and used the space for things for the baby. Speaking of which…
FOR THE BABY
Half a dozen nappies
Cotton hat for indoors
Woolly hat for going home
Pram suit (for going home)
Car seat (Which stayed in the car until we needed it, so I didn’t actually “pack” it, obviously…)
Little bunny toy, just because.
A few burp cloths
Everything except the scratch mits (All of Max’s sleepsuits had little bits that fold over the hands anyway), and I had to message my parents asking them to bring in more of everything: TOTAL FAIL.
Packing a bag for a baby who didn’t exist yet – and who, thanks to my anxiety, I was privately convinced never WOULD exist – was a pretty strange experience, and I’m just going to hold up my hands here and admit that I totally messed up, and didn’t take nearly enough of anything. The thing is, I knew absolutely nothing about babies when I went into hospital to have Max: I’d held my friends’ babies, but I’d never had to look after one, so I had absolutely no idea what he’d need, or in what kind of quantity. I think the hospital bag checklist I consulted for the baby bag must have vastly under-estimated everything too, because I followed it to the letter and, as I said, ended up having to get my parents to bring in fresh sleepsuits, burp cloths and nappies.
Some of this was due to our own total incompetence as new parents, obviously: we totally weren’t prepared for the fact that he’d spit up enough milk to totally soak his clothes, so I was really surprised to find we went through so many clothes: I think I was assuming he’d be much like an adult, and would only need one outfit a day, which HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, you sweet, summer child.
As for the nappies, meanwhile, I have NO IDEA what I was thinking. “Not much,” would seem to be the answer to that. Luckily, the hospital provided nappies anyway, so it wasn’t an issue, but I was annoyed with myself for having gotten it so wrong – if I were to do it again (And, spoiler alert, I WON’T BE), I’d probably take a full pack. Ah well, you live and you … well, you live, anyway.
Yeah, complete packing fail on my part. I over-packed for me and under-packed for the baby, and I was just lucky in that our hospital provided everything anyway. As I said, though, every birth, and every hospital is so different that I’m not sure I’d do any better if I were to do it all again. One thing I found was that most of the articles and forum threads I read on this subject seemed to really catastrophize everything, so I went in prepared for the worst case scenario, and fully expecting to end up soaked in blood and God knows what else, only to find that my experience wasn’t anything like that.
I also got tons and tons of unsolicited advice, which, although obviously well-meant, just ended up confusing me, and making me feel like I had to take absolutely everything people were telling me I’d need. I’m not sure if my experience (Very light bleeding, a one-night stay and a hospital that provided pretty much everything) was unusual or not, but I found I didn’t need the majority of the things I packed for myself: and I consider myself to be pretty high-maintenance, so that came as quite the surprise to me.
Would I do it differently the next time, though?
Er, probably not, to be honest. I’d definitely take WAY more stuff for the baby, obviously, but I’d probably STILL over-pack for myself, because, ultimately, while my hospital bag checklist was most definitely an exercise in over-thinking, it really helped keep me calm and feel prepared in the run-up to the birth – which was the whole point, really.