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If you're expecting a baby and planning a hospital birth, these questions may have crossed your mind: What should I pack? What will I really need? What does the hospital already have? Well, I've been with lots of couples during their hospital births, and I've worked in a variety of hospitals. So here are my thoughts on how to pack for the hospital. These are not exhaustive lists; rather lists highlighting the things that are especially handy to have with you.
What to pack for mama
1. Bathrobe - It is so helpful to be able to put this on over a hospital gown or other clothing. You may feel hot, then cold, then hot during labor, and a bathrobe is an easy way to deal with this. Plus it smells like home and can help remind you of the comforts of home.
2. Slippers or flip flops - You may be in and out of the tub/shower/bed, and want to walk around the hallways. It's helpful to have shoes that you can just slip on and off. I have witnessed many dads bending over to tie/untie mama's shoes: it's sweet, but unnecessary. :)
3. Some alternative to a hospital gown (nightgown, big t-shirt, comfy dress) - You may be fine with wearing the hospital-provided gown that ties in the back, and not want to get anything birthy on your own clothing. But if the idea of a scratchy, open-backed gown makes you cringe, bring your own clothing! Whatever you feel comfortable in is fine - there's no "correct" clothing for birthing.
4. Button down pajama or other easy-open shirt for nursing and skin to skin with baby - You may also opt to just wear your bathrobe the first day in the hospital, and keep it open when you're alone with your baby and partner. As much skin to skin as possible is good for everybody, and air drying is good for keeping your nipples from getting too sore. (Pajama pants or maternity sweat pants are also good for the postpartum days.)
5. Snacks! Easy to grab things for labor are a must. You need calories to keep your energy up. Choose something that sounds good to you, and that will be easy to eat, i.e. applesauce, granola bars, gummy bears, fruit, juice boxes.
6. Aromatherapy - DONA certified doulas can't use aromatherapy because it's outside our scope of practice, but many mamas appreciate this comfort measure during labor. It works well for mamas to choose their own aromatherapy anyway, because they know what they like! A couple of suggestions are lavender, for relaxing and resting during labor, and peppermint for energy and refreshment during pushing. Aromatherapy can be in the form of a simple lotion or massage oil, or pure essential oil that can be sprinkled on sheets.
7. Playlists on your iPod or iPhone - Again, make one for relaxing and even meditating, and one to get you pumped up. Some mamas want to have a dance party during labor; movement can help you cope with the intensity. Energizing music is also good for pushing - after all, it is a workout!
8. iPad, laptop, DVDs - Some people may disagree with me here, and let me preface this by saying that this item is not for everyone. But, if you are like many first time mamas who may get to the hospital too early, you may need distraction during early labor and even into active labor. For some couples with whom I have worked, watching a silly sitcom or favorite movie has provided helpful distraction during labor. (If you know me, you know that I LOVE (am obsessed with) the show Friends. I will definitely be watching it when I'm in labor someday, because I know it will make me laugh!) Laughing is good for you in labor, and all the time! You can also use one of these devices to play a Pandora station. Enya, anyone?
What to pack for partner
1. Food/drink - I made this number one for a reason! Support people need to keep their strength and energy up during a long labor. Pack snacks for yourself, or even throw in some leftovers from the fridge on your way out the door. I always pack something for myself, including a sandwich or leftover, and fruits and veggies. Our bodies need us to take care of them, so we can take care of others.
2. Toothbrush/mouthwash - Mamas can be sensitive to smells during labor, so we need to make sure we have fresh breath. :)
3. Neck pillow - This can help you catch a nap in an uncomfortable chair.
4. Button down shirt for skin to skin with your baby - Dads/partners can do skin to skin too! Babies love it; it calms them right down. This is also a great way for dads to bond with baby while mama is resting.
What to pack for baby
1. Olive oil in a tiny container - To put it delicately, this is for your baby's bum. Meconium, baby's first few poops, is very sticky and tar-like. After a diaper change, dip your fingers into the olive oil and gently rub some over baby's clean bottom. Then at the next diaper change, the meconium will swipe right off instead of sticking like tar. Magic!
2. Clothes to wear home from the hospital - Make sure they are warm enough! A baby suit or hat can also make a nice focal point during labor (channel "Oh yeah, that's why I'm doing all this!).
What the hospital already has
1. Tons of pillows - You don't need to bring your own pillow. Studies show that germs are transferred on the clothing of hospital staff even when they leave the hospital. It's easy to throw all the clothes you brought into the washer, but that's harder to do with your pillow.
2. Limited snacks/drinks - Most hospital have small kitchenettes that are stocked with water and ice, coffee for partners, ginger ale, juice, crackers, cereal, peanut butter, and popsicles.
3. CD player or iPod dock - Do bring your own iPod or CDs, but most hospitals will have a way to play them.
4. Birth ball - You don't need to bring your own birth ball to the hospital. And thank goodness, because those things are hard to fit into the car, especially with a baby carseat and a laboring mama! If you don't see one in your room when you arrive, simply ask a nurse and she can bring you one.
5. Diapers and wipes out the wazoo - Do not bring diapers! The hospital has bazillions of them. You may even get sent home with a good supply.
6. Hats and swaddle blankets for baby out the wazoo - Nurses will keep your baby in these things almost to a fault. You may find yourself unswaddling your baby just to snuggle with him.
Please feel free to add your own suggestions or experiences in the comments. And stay tuned for What's In Your Doula's Birth Bag. Happy packing!