Senior Midwife Marie Louise has kindly provided her expert advice for the Scarlet Journal for soon-to-be-parents. Here is her definitive guide to what you need to pack in your hospital bag.
There’s so much conflicting information from the internet, companies and even sometimes amongst health care professionals. I thought you might find it useful to have some clarity on what to pack in your hospital bag and why. Getting day one right is important.
You should have your bag ready by 36 weeks pregnant and this remains the same even if you are having a planned homebirth. Just in case you need to go into hospital, ensure that you have a bag packed, ready to go as you will most probably have enough to think about if you need to be transferred in. Everything below is in accordance with credible, scientific research and relayed with almost a decade of experience in midwifery.
First of all, do this with your birth partner. Get them to go through it all so they know where everything is because they will be pulling bits out as you need it whilst you are in labour.
For your newborn baby:
Nappies, as these will be on your baby’s skin for the best part of 24 hours a day 7 days a week, you may want to consider what company to choose and how this may affect your baby’s skin. A lot of nappies have chlorine, bleach and chemicals in them. Also, each child uses around 8,000 nappies throughout their lifetime and regular disposable nappies take up to 100 years to degrade. It won’t be you and I that are faced with the build of land fill, it will be our children and our grandchildren. There’s a happy medium available from high street shops now, biodegradable nappies. Because they need to degrade they usually have fewer chemicals in and are made from more natural fibres which are good for both your baby and the environment. If you are planning on using washable nappies, great!
Babywear, your baby has been in a natural and safe environment in the womb, they have never seen light, heard clear sounds, felt skin to skin or been on dry land. We then expose newborns to lots of new stimuli, including chemicals. I recommend that you clothe your baby in organic wear for the first four weeks if possible and pre-wash them in baking soda (rinse well). This is much kinder to their skin and helps reduce some unnecessary exposure to chemicals which may cause skin irritation. Boy or girl, cream colour is best. If you have ever had the pleasure of dealing with a newborn poo explosion you’ll know what I mean! Anyway, you can boil wash cream clothing and get the poo stains out rather than ruin outfit after outfit. Try and opt for babywear that fastens down the front as it’s so much easier to get on. Finally – the hat; your baby will be wet at birth so we dry them off and then recommend you pop a hat on to keep the heat in.
Muslin, these are just brilliant and versatile, from mopping up sick, protecting your shoulder whilst winding to a little blanket or wrap. You are guaranteed to make use of muslin or two.
Nappy rash cream, bearing in mind again that baby’s skin is five times thinner and more permeable than an adult’s, the rule that I use is – if you wouldn’t rub it into your lips or eat it, don’t put it on your newborn baby’s skin. It’s absorbed extremely quickly and easily. It takes your baby four weeks to build up protective skin barriers. Any washes that contain sulphates (SLS and SLES), parabens, phthalates, artificial colours and perfumes will only strip the build-up of natural skin barriers and enzymes, increasing the risk of dryness, rashes, eczema and psoriasis. Avoid washing your baby or using fragranced creams for at least four weeks. Use 100% food grade organic nappy rash cream if required.
Cotton wool, for the first few days of life your baby will pass something called meconium. It’s thick black, sticky and difficult to get off. Using a cold, fragranced baby wipe will only cause unnecessary discomfort and once again strip important skin barriers. You will need to keep rubbing the same section of skin to get off the meconium and this can become very sore for your newborn. Warm water and cotton wool is all you need. Save the wipes for later and when you start using them, opt for the most natural, chemical and fragrance free products to protect your baby to unnecessary exposure to chemicals.
Safe mode of transport home, however you get home you will need to have a safe mode of transport with you. Some hospital guidelines recommend that midwives briefly assess your mode of transport to ensure it’s safe before you leave.
Formula, if you plan to bottle feed your baby have formula milk ready, otherwise don’t worry about getting formula. All formula milk in most high street shops is manufactured by the same companies. They all need to stick to the same strict guidelines so the truth of the matter is they all look different due to marketing and packaging but they are all very similar.
And that’s all you really need for your newborn. They don’t really care how much you have bought them. You are the most important person in their life and that’s all they really care about: having you love and care for them.
For you, mama:
You need a few things and I always give pointers to make your life as easy and comfortable as possible.
A toiletries kit, after meeting your baby and eating something you’ll soon want to sleep and/or have a bath or shower. Bring in your regular toiletries and maybe something a little more indulgent like a luxury, relaxing wash. Try and opt for a natural or organic wash as you will be a little more sensitive than usual yourself.
Face cloth, it’s ideal for labour. You will probably get a little hot and sweaty during labour, so not only will this help to cool you down but if you pop a few drops of lavender oil on it, this may also help you feel a little calmer. After you have had your baby it will also come in useful for a nice wash. If you have a Caesarean Section you may not be up and walking for a day, so hospital staff can give you a bed bath with your own cloth and washes (or you may prefer to do this yourself).
Soft slippers, for hygiene and to protect your feet from the hospital floor – go for non-slip ones.
Sanitary pads, you’ll bleed quite heavily after birth so go for thick pads. If you give birth naturally you will be more sensitive, so opt for natural, chlorine and bleach free pads.
Nipple cream, the number one reason women stop breastfeeding is because their nipples get too sore. Firstly, good baby/nipple attachment is key. Secondly, caring for breastfeeding nipples is paramount. Get a 100% food grade organic cream and use it from the first feed. It really helps to protect and heal your nipples. You can also use it as a lip balm in labour, great when using gas and air. I don’t recommend lanolin based creams because I am not convinced they are the best for your newborns gut.
Hair ties, as mentioned you may get hot and sweaty during labour. You want your hair out and away from your face so you can breathe properly and cool down. If you are breastfeeding tie your hair up so you can see the attachment properly. Also pop a tie on the wrist you last fed from so you don’t need to write it down or remember. One less thing to think about.
Maternity knickers, go for real Bridget Jones style because comfort is key after you have had a baby. Make sure they rise right up above your belly button encase you need a C-Section. Knickers naturally sit on a potential incision wound which can be really uncomfortable. If you don’t have a C-Section, your tummy won’t go down right away and it’s nice to have that extra support around your tummy.
Nightie, so you can breastfeed at night with ease. The amount of times I have walked into a room and mums crying, baby is crying as she’s trying to hold her pjyama top up and attach baby to the breast. Get a super soft and comfy night shirt that unbuttons down the front so you can feed without hassle of getting your top off or pulling it up and struggling to see. Also, you may want to pee or change pad standing if you have had a c-section, nightie saves the day here!
Sleep Bra, these are super comfy and easy to feed in, they don’t have underwire so they don’t dig in or pose a risk of you developing mastitis from an underwired bra (that’s ill fitted).
Snacks, for both you and your birth partner. Although there are snacks and sandwiches in most hospitals you’ll want your own favourite snacks with you so you can just help yourself rather than end up with a sandwich you don’t really fancy. Also plenty of drinks to keep you hydrated and your sugar levels up – a mix of water and fruit juices or isotonic sports drinks (steer clear of high energy drinks though as they give you a high, followed by a low!)
Music, make a playlist for labour (unless you plan to hypnobirth) start listening to the playlist during your pregnancy in your favourite room at home. Breathe and focus on the feeling of calmness and being in control. I am always surprised at how many women forget this when it really does make a difference. The power of music is phenomenal.
Your antenatal notes, this is key to helping midwives and doctors provide you with good care. It’s got everything we need to know about you, blood tests, your pregnancy, scans and your baby. Without your notes it’s possible things can get missed as we can’t get the history we need.
Going home outfit, I am a massive fan of comfy maternity dresses, especially if they tie above your waist and facilitate breastfeeding. They take up less room in your bag, you don’t need to worry about the fit if it’s adjustable, you haven’t got to think about a matching top to go with jeans/trousers, they are airy and don’t rub anywhere that could be sore and they are much easier to get on and off.
That’s all you really need to take with you, hospital rooms are small and if everything is normal and well you can go home after six hours. Most women spend one night in hospital and go home the next day. If you do need to stay then your birth partner can always grab extra bits for you.