An International Board Certified Lactation Consultants Guide to packing your hospital bag for birth and breastfeeding
Updated September 13th 2023
When I was pregnant with my firstborn and it came time to pack my hospital bag, I really wasn’t sure what to bring. I was delivering my baby at our midwife clinic. They had a beautiful birthing suite there that included a fridge for drinks and snacks.
I knew I needed a diaper and clothes to bring my baby home in. I knew I needed something comfy to wear on the ride home as we were only staying about 3 hours after delivery (very standard for a clinic delivery with midwives).
I knew I needed my phone and a charger so we could keep our families updated. We also had a playlist for labouring with relaxing spa-type music. I figured I should pack some underwear and postpartum pads (which I didn’t use because I went home in a diaper) but that’s really all I had on my list.
I didn’t have a hard copy of a birth plan because I thoroughly discussed my options with my midwives and made informed decisions prior to labour starting. They knew what my birth preferences were and so did my husband. If something were to “stray” from the “plan” they knew what my preferences would be. If you do have a formal birth plan, do bring a few copies with you.
I thought about it some more and after chatting with the midwives…
I packed a few more things. Because I had access to a fridge and was freely going to be able to walk around, move and eat during labour if needed, I packed coconut water and lots of organic juice boxes. The coconut water and juice boxes were to hydrate me and provide my body the quick energy I needed to get through labour. I also packed snacks to eat after birth. I packed allergen friendly granola bars (and ate the whole box of 6!)
I bought a nightgown specifically for this event. I did not previously own one but my midwives suggested one. They suggested one because they do not provide hospital gowns and not everyone labours naked. I thought for sure I would wear this nightgown. Long story short, I laboured in it for a little while but when I had the option of hydrotherapy (water to manage labour pains) I had to take it off. From that point on it stayed off and I laboured and delivered naked. The exact opposite of what I thought I would do.
I packed organic olive oil for perineal massage. This was encouraged by my midwives and we never ended up using it! I didn’t end up with any tearing so I didn’t need it after all but it was nice to have.
I packed organic cotton breast pads. I didn’t need these because I was heading home 3 hours after birth but if you will be staying longer, these will be especially helpful when your milk volume starts to increase around day 3-5. These ones are a great option because they’re made of bamboo so they’re breathable and reusable. You can save 10% off your purchase with code MOTHERHOODBLOOMS at checkout.
Again, because I wasn’t staying long toiletries weren’t really needed but I definitely suggest packing some if your stay will be longer than 3 hours. Think toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, deodorant (although I do prefer not wearing any immediately postpartum to allow baby to get used to and comfortable with your natural scent), makeup if that sparks joy for you. Hair elastics if you have long hair or a headband and a brush or comb.
For a longer stay I would suggest socks and slippers as well as a nursing bra/tank top and any additional clothing and underwear you or your partner may need.
What do you need to pack for breastfeeding?
I love answering this question and this is one of the questions that prompted this entire post. Essentially, YOU! That’s it. Honestly. Your body has been making milk since the second trimester. It’s called colostrum and is very thick and sticky. It might be clear in colour or it might be a deep, golden-yellow. It’s only produced in small drops because that’s all your baby needs at first.
Colostrum is THE PERFECT food for your baby and your body has it ready to go as soon as baby is in your arms.
Practicing the skin to skin immediately after birth and allowing your baby to find the breast themselves (this is called the breast crawl) will help get breastfeeding off to a strong start. Hand expression is another skill you can learn to help maximize your success. You can get a head start on reaching your breastfeeding goals inside The Breastfeeding Before Baby Program.
In addition to the above, you may want to consider the following popular items as some can be left at home.
As mentioned above if you’re staying a few days (and sometimes you won’t know this ahead of time) breast pads will be helpful. When colostrum transitions and your milk volume rapidly increases, your breasts might leak. This is when breast pads can be great to have.
I am asked all the time about nipple cream. I always go back to the research. Evidence shows us that if a baby is latched well (deeply) breastfeeding should not hurt. Mild tenderness or soreness is to be expected in the first few weeks but you should never be in pain. If you’re in a lot of pain, or your nipples are cracked or damaged, you need the support of a lactation professional.
While nipple creams are marketed to support nipple damage, the evidence for healing is weak. Hand expressing your own milk into your nipple is actually more effective at healing damaged and sore nipples. Your body also has a built in feature to help your baby find the nipple. The montgomery glands (bumps on the dark part around your nipple) secrete an oily substance that protects the nipple and smells like amniotic fluid. If you choose to bring a nipple cream, it should be unscented.
I believe you should feel confident. If having a nipple cream packed makes you feel confident, please bring one.
My first suggestion is always laid-back breastfeeding. If you deliver via c-section, you may want to sit up to feed in which case a breastfeeding pillow may be helpful to have. You also don’t need a pillow specifically for breastfeeding, you can use any kind of pillow to provide your body and your baby a little extra support.
This is not something you need to bring to the hospital most of the time. I say most of the time because premature infants as well those born before 39 weeks don’t quite have the suck-swallow-breathe pattern of breastfeeding figured out. These babies benefit from a pacifier. For a typical healthy full term infant, pacifier introduction should be delayed until breastfeeding is well established (which can take several weeks).
The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine indicates formula supplementation should only happen after birth if medically indicated. As you read, your body started making milk for your baby in the second trimester. Colostrum is there. It might be clear (for some) but it’s there and it’s all your baby needs. Hand expressing will help colostrum transition to mature milk faster and is a great skill to have. You can perform hand expression in between feedings and collect the milk onto a clean spoon to feed back to your baby. You do not need to pack ready made formula in your hospital bag.
- Diaper (for you and baby)
- Baby wipes
- Diaper cream
- Couple of onesies
- Outer layer depending on the season
- Comfy clothes to wear home (track pants NOT jeans)
- Postpartum pads
- Peri bottle
- Phone charger (a long cord!)
- Snacks and water
- Olive oil
- Breast pads
- Nipple cream
- Soap/shampoo/conditioner/cleanser etc (depends on your stay)
- Hair elastics/headband
- Brush or comb
- Nursing bra or nursing tank top
- Health cards/insurance
- Any medications
- Birth plan
And make sure your partner is included too with a change of clothes and some toiletries.
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