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The only hospital bag checklist you'll ever need

By Sarah Wiltshire, Editor

With your due date approaching, we’re here to help you pack all the essentials you’ll need during labour and birth

You’ve waited months to meet your baby and with your due date almost here, you’ll need to start thinking about what to pack in your hospital bag. What are the essentials and nice-to-haves? Am I allowed my own pillow? What about music and a birth ball? How many bags do I need? When should I pack and should I have a separate hospital bag for the baby?

Packing your hospital bag can be a calming, soothing ritual, and something to focus on whilst you’re playing the waiting game. You might even feel excited - it’s not long until you meet your baby. Take your time to gather all the things you need and lay them out on your bed before putting them in your chosen bag. It’s worth unpacking and repacking it to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

If you’re planning a home birth, use this time to make a dedicated birth space and consider packing a birth bag instead - even if you’re not planning on giving birth in hospital, it’s a good idea to pack a bag anyway, just in case you need to go in unexpectedly - it’s always best to be prepared.

Labour can be unpredictable and the prospect of packing for every eventuality might seem a bit daunting. Follow our tips and checklists for all your essentials and additional peace of mind.  

Packing your hospital bag before you are due to give birth can be daunting. Watch our easy-to-follow video guide to what to pack to take with you for birth and just after.

When should I pack my hospital bag?

There’s no knowing when you might go into labour, so it’s a good idea to have your bag packed 4-6 weeks before your due date so you’re as ready as you can be.

Remember to double-check what you’re allowed to bring in with you as hospital policies do differ, but most will want to help make your experience as comfortable as possible. It’s a good idea to pack two bags, one for labour and the birth and one for baby.

What should I pack for labour?

Every woman’s birth experience is different and you can’t be sure how it will play out,  but if you make sure you bring the essentials, you can make sure you’ll be as comfortable as possible.

When your first go into labour, it might seem like nothing much is happening, or things can get moving very quickly. The main thing is to have all your practical essentials to hand to help you feel comfortable, calm and supported - you certainly don’t want to be worrying if you’ve left anything at home on the way to the hospital.

You may be waiting around on the labour ward for a while, so bring some magazines or a book to read or listen to music. You could use this an opportunity for you to go through your birth plan with your partner and, if you’re practising hypnobirthing,  use the time to reflect and practice your positive affirmations. This is very much the calm before the storm, so make yourself comfortable and settled with a pillow from home and some snacks and drinks - you’re going to need to keep your energy up for what’s to come.

When things get going, you probably won’t worry about what’s happening around you. Wear a loose t-shirt or nightie so you can move around easily and make sure you’ve got a hairband to keep your hair out of your face.

Your partner or doula will be on hand to support and guide you. Things like offering you sips of water (a sports bottle is very handy) or a facial spritz can help cool you down and bring a bit of light relief.  Play your favourite music through your laptop or tablet to help soothe you and create a little background ambience. Some women try a TENS machine to help with pain relief - by sending a series of electrical pulses through your skin, it can offer a distraction from your contractions.

Labour checklist

  1. Birth plan and maternity notes
  2. Dressing gown - Perfect as a cover-up when you’re pacing those hospital corridors. A dark colour will hide any stains too.
  3. Slippers - Choose ones that are easy to get on and off and don’t require much bending down.
    Massage oil  - Massage can help ease pain in labour.
  4. Birth ball or gym ball - A birth ball can help keep you mobile in labour and ease lower back pain. The hospital may have one you can use or ask if you bring your own.
  5. Drinks and snacks - Energy bars and sports drinks will help keep you going.
  6. Sports bottle  - For those vital sips during labour.  
  7. Laptop or tablet - To play your favourite music and pass the time in the early stages of labour.
  8. Magazines or a book - You could be waiting around for a while!A comfy t-shirt or nightie to wear during labour - Beware, it might get a bit messy.
  9. TENS machine  - Some women find this helps with contractions.
  10. Facial spray or travel fan - To help cool you down. 
  11. Pillow - It might help you feel more comfortable and a v-shaped one is great for support when lying on your side and breastfeeding your baby. 

What you’ll need after the birth

There’s a lot of talk of what to do to plan for the birth, but what about afterwards? What will you need if you have to stay in hospital overnight or a for few days?

You could be back home within a few hours or, if you have caesarean you may have to stay in hospital for three or four days.

If you stay for one or more nights, you’ll need your normal overnight bag of toiletries you’d normally take away with you, so things like your toothbrush and toothpaste, face wash and face cream. Depending on how long you’re there you’ll also be given the chance to have a shower, so take a nice big towel and shower gel so you can freshen up.

Have nice, comfortable pair of pyjamas to change into whilst you bond with your baby and wait to go home. Front-opening tops are great for breastfeeding and will also allow you to maintain that all-important skin-to-skin contact with your new arrival.

One of the things hospitals don’t really provide are maternity pads, which are essential for after the birth, and don’t forget take a few changes of knickers too. If in doubt, go big - comfort is key here and big knickers are also ideal if you have a caesarean as they won’t rub your surgery scar.  

Pack a going home outfit that’s loose and comfortable. Your tummy will have gone down a little bit, but it will take a while, so you’ll find that you’ll still be wearing your maternity clothes for some time afterwards. Stretchy joggers or leggings are perfect.

After birth checklist

  1. Toiletries - All the things you would put in your wash bag for an overnight stay.
  2. Nursing bras - Special bras with clips to aid breastfeeding
  3. Breast pads - For any leaks when your milk comes in
  4. Maternity pads - Bring a couple of packs
  5. Pyjamas
  6. A few pairs of knickers 
  7. Going home outfit
  8. Towel
Baby sleepsuits

What you’ll need for your baby

When you’re packing your hospital bag it might be hard to imagine that you’ll have a tiny little person in your arms in the not-so-distant future, but the time will come and when your baby does finally make an entrance, you’ll need a few things to make sure they’re warm and comfortable too.

Pack at least two or three sleepsuits, vests and a cardigan or two. You’ll also need a hat as hospitals can be chilly, and mittens to stop them from scratching themselves. Lots of people like to pack a special going home outfit for baby too, for that all important first-time-outside photo.

Muslin squares are a lifesaver and can be used to mop up milk and any accidents (there will be lots), and of course, don’t forget a big pack of newborn nappies and wipes - the hospital won’t provide these.

If it’s winter-time, make sure you have a blanket so you can cover them on the journey home, and of course, you’ll need a car seat for their first car ride.

For baby checklist

  1. Blanket - Hospitals can get cold and it’ll be a good cover-up for baby’s first journey
  2. Scratch mittens - Babies’ hands flail about a lot - these will stop those little scratches
  3. Sleepsuits and vests - Pack lots for multiple changes
  4. Hat
  5. Nappies and wipes - Bring a couple of packs, you’ll be surprised how many you get through.
  6. Muslin squares - A new parent’s best friend
  7. Baby car seat - Our Nursery Partners can show you how to fit these in store.

    Find out more about our Nursery Advice Service.