Have you packed your hospital bag yet? From essentials for your newborn baby to extra comfort during labour, our checklist reveals the most important things to bring with you wherever you choose to give birth.
Getting ready for the birth
For both mum-to-be and birth partner, there are a surprising number of things to keep track of when labour starts. But there are ways you can prepare in advance, so the arrival of your baby can go as smoothly as possible. Here we go through the top things to put in your hospital bag – whether you’re planning for a vaginal birth or a C-section – as well as how to prepare for the journey to the hospital or birth centre on the big day. Still thinking about your birth options? Use our where to give birth tool to help you decide if a birth centre, labour ward or home birth would be best for you.
The most popular hospital bag items
When it comes to packing your hospital bag, it’s definitely worth taking tips from parents who’ve done it all before. In our February 2021 baby survey, most respondents took a range of items in their hospital bag for both themselves and for the baby. Here’s what they packed:
Nappies. You’re unlikely to get more than one or two nappies from the hospital, so make sure you’re well supplied from the outset. In our survey, this was the item that most respondents (83%) took in their hospital bag.
Toiletries. This could be anything from shower gel for a post-birth shower, lip balm for lips that get dry from using gas and air, or nipple cream for soreness from feeding. Don’t forget solutions for contact lenses if you wear them, as well as a toothbrush and toothpaste to help you feel fresh if your labour is long.
Mobile phone and charger. In our survey, 81% of respondents said they took a mobile phone and charger with them in their hospital bag. You might want to take a portable charging bank, too, in case you don’t have access to a power socket. Headphones could also be useful if you want to listen to music or hypnobirthing sessions on your phone.
Change of clothes to go home in. Take these with you rather than relying on someone bringing them in – you might get discharged the same day you give birth. Our survey revealed that 81% of respondents took a change of clothes to go home in.
Sleep suits/bodysuits for baby. Newborns can get through quite a few changes of clothing in a day (newborn poo is runny and gets everywhere!) so calculate for around five or six sleep suits per day. Hats, mittens or socks for your baby are other things that respondents took with them to hospital (74%).
Maternity sanitary pads. You’ll need these and possibly disposable knickers, too, so pack plenty.
Shawl or blanket for baby. In our research, 74% of respondents took a shawl or blanket with them for their little one.
Cotton wool or baby wipes. Newborn skin is so delicate that it should ideally be cleaned with just water and cotton wool or a cloth. If you choose to use baby wipes, they should be fragrance-free or alcohol-free (as recommended by the NHS).
Nightgown. Consider bringing an old one (or an old T-shirt) if you want to give birth in it, plus choose a front-opening one for after the birth if you’re hoping to breastfeed. A lightweight cotton dressing gown plus slippers (or flip-flops) and socks (your feet may get cold during labour) are also worth taking.
Maternity medical notes. These are where all the information about your pregnancy and medical history is recorded, so it’s important to keep them with you. This is especially important if you’re away from your usual place of care when you go into labour. Our survey found that 69% of people had them in their hospital bag.
Breast pads. You’ll need these whether or not you’re breastfeeding (67% of respondents in our survey said they put breast pads in the bag they take to hospital). Don’t forget a couple of nursing bras, too.
Towels. Take towels for both you and for your baby – you can’t always guarantee you’ll be given one, even if you need one, when you’re in hospital. In our survey, towels were the tenth most-popular item taken in respondents’ hospital bags (61%). A couple of flannels might be useful, too, for cooling you down during labour or for bathing after the birth.
Birth plan. Although it was the least popular item put in hospital bags, birth plans were still included by almost half of respondents (47%). Download our hospital bag checklist for more tips on what you might find useful during and after the birth.
The hospital bag wishlist: useful extras
Hair clips or hair bands. They’re small enough to forget, but during a hot labour or a water birth they’re handy for keeping your hair off your face. Bottle of water with a sports lid. This type of lid will make it easier to sip from the bottle when lying down. Drinks and snacks for energy. Think cereal bars, boiled sweets/dextrose tablets, dried fruit, sandwiches, vegetable sticks (eg carrots) and crackers or rice cakes.
Ear plugs/noise-cancelling headphones and an eye mask. These are especially important if you’re staying overnight, as maternity wards can be bright and noisy, with people coming and going, as well as other people’s crying babies. Magazines, books or downloads on your phone or a tablet. These may be especially useful during early labour, or for after the birth if you’re staying in overnight. Your own pillow.
Hospital or birth centre pillows are functional but not necessarily comfortable. Your own pillow will help you to create a little bit of home from home. If breastfeeding, consider a breastfeeding pillow, too. Toilet roll. You may be a little tender after giving birth, so the last thing you need is having to use utilitarian loo roll. Take your own.
Car seat. This isn’t just useful – you won’t be able to leave the hospital in a car without one. Head to our car seat reviews to pick one of the best.
C-section hospital bag
If you know that you’ll be having an elective C-section, you can plan your hospital bag to make you as comfortable as possible during and after the birth.
As well as many of the items in the most popular hospital bag items list, there are others that are specific to having a C-section, including the following: Music to play during the C-section. Studies show that it can help to reduce stress levels during the procedure.
Blanket or shawl. You might feel quite cold if you have an epidural, so it’s good to have something to wrap around or drap over yourself. Big, high-waisted knickers. This will ensure that any elastic won’t rub on your C-section wound, causing discomfort and potentially preventing it from healing.
Drinks and snacks. You won’t be allowed to eat before the procedure, so may be hungry. Dried fruit. The painkillers you’re given might cause constipation, so eating dried fruit can help to prevent this.
When to get your maternity bag ready
It’s never too soon to pack your hospital bag. The last thing you want to do when labour kicks in is to spend half an hour trying to find the sleep suits and nappies you bought in the sales two months ago. If you’re not sure where to start, use our hospital bag checklist, which has everything you need for before and after labour, plus some handy extras inspired by our survey results.
Don’t forget your baby’s car seat, as you won’t be allowed to leave the hospital in a car without it. Our tough tests uncover the Best Buy child car seats, giving you extra peace of mind at a busy, stressful and very memorable time.
If you’re still deciding where to give birth, our handy where to give birth tool will help you decide which maternity unit is right for you or whether a home birth is the best option.