There’s nothing like having two of your besties in their third trimester to inspire you to put pen to paper and write a list. It’s a list I’m asked to share often: what to pack in your maternity hospital bag. This is probably one of the most requested blogs and it’s only taken me three years to write. Note to self parents-to-be: nothing will happen on time or quickly ever again.
Part of this list is bog standard and I’m not going to include specifics like contact lenses or eye-drops, just remember to put those in your toiletry bag which I have indeed listed if you need them. There are however a few items in this list that I either had the foresight to predict or learnt the hard way by forgetting the first time around. It’s these few bits that I really hope make it into your hospital bag to make your birthing and recovery experience a seamless one. I’m not going to go through the obvious items below but I will talk about those I found helpful or essential.
A thank-you to Checkers for sponsoring this post. The new Checkers Baby section within most Hyper stores is incredible and stocks just about everything you need, from small bits to prams, cots, feeding chairs and more. Being able to do a full shop in one location makes mom-life that little bit easier! My local is the Checkers Hyper in Sandton City and I know the Constantia Emporium in Cape Town is as mind-blowing.
What to pack for mom
I’m going to start with a little hack I predicted and it was an absolute saviour; I try to make sure I tell every expectant mama to pack this one: battery operated candles or lights. Why? If you’ve ever been to hospital you’ll know how horrendous fluorescent hospital lighting is and the maternity ward is no exception. You want to make a cosy, ambient cocoon for you and your baby and there’s nothing like turning on a giant florescent light at 2am to ruin everyone’s vibe. You’re up a LOT, being checked on a LOT and you need light, but it can be dim and ambient. I had battery operated candles next to my bed and even strung some battery operated star-lights over the mirror in the bathroom to make nappy changes that little bit more peaceful. It’s a little thing but it’s a big thing.
The next little thing that became a big thing for me was the incessant knocking on my door and it almost pushed me over the edge. Every time either one of us fell asleep there’d be a knock on the door and a loud wake-up to add to the sleep deprivation.
Knock at the door: blood pressure check
Knock at the door: meds
Knock at the door: here to clear your bin
You get the idea. Second time around I remembered to take Post-It notes that said DO NOT KNOCK [just come in]. It’s also worthwhile throwing in a small book and pen for any notes you need to take to remember feeds or your schedule. Don’t forget copies of your IDs, medical aid information and any forms the hospital require you to have with you.
Another discovery I made the second time around was Ecinacea and Lymphomyosot. Both are homeopathic and are safe to take to keep your immune system up and to help keep mastitis at bay. I was way more terrified of mastitis than I was of childbirth if I’m honest and I managed to successfully prevent an infection, no thanks to working really hard at keeping the breasts in check. Ecinacea is immune support and Lymphomyosot aids in lymph drainage; both were recommended by my lactation specialist. Another really nifty trick I learnt from her was backward motion massage (rolling fingers from nipple to outer breast) to drain some milk back down into the duct to avoid swelling. I don’t have this in my list because it’s situation dependent, but good old cold cabbage leaves are a saving grace. Mastitis can be a really scary thing so it’s best to keep it at bay.
Make sure the clothing you pack is comfy to the max and breast-feeding friendly if you’re going to BF; button up tops, loose slouchy waist-bands, dark colours etc. If you had maternity leggings while pregnant those are great. Remember you still look 7 months pregnant after you’ve had your babe and you don’t want to feel constricted and uncomfortable. Pack an extra pair or two if you can because breasts are leaky things and there’s also a whole lot going on downstairs too; you bleed for weeks after having a baby and those first few days are particularly heavy. Maternity pads and disposable panties are really necessary and handy things! I also bought myself a pack of big, black cotton granny panties that I could throw away after a couple of weeks.
Comfy socks and slippers are also essential. If you have a Caesarean and go into theatre it can be pretty chilly in there so socks are great. Opt for ease and comfort at every turn; we even took our own pillows and duvet. Nothing is going to be as snug as your home bed so do what you need to do to make your hospital stay a pleasant one. A nice pillow is also really helpful for breast-feeding to prop baby up onto and to help make feeds easy, especially when you’re still figuring things out.
There will be moments of calm and quiet so I recommend taking an iPad or computer with some downloaded content to watch for you and your partner, or a book. I wasn’t in a reading mind-frame but we did watch a series in bed and it felt quite surreal. While we’re on gadgets, don’t forget the cameras, phones, chargers, ear-phones and bits you need. I downloaded an app called Relax Melodies onto my phone and iPad which plays the most glorious white noise (ocean, rain etc). We started playing it on pretty much day 1 and we still use it at night and for every nap. Babies love white noise because the womb is noisy and it signals sleep to them. I also love falling asleep to it.
Snacks! OMG snacks. Breastfeeding, healing and recovery are all fueled by food so this is important. We packed a cooler bag full of easy to eat and drink goodies that were packed with goodness and at the ready. My sister-in-law made me a giant bowl of over-night oats that I still dream about; oats is amazing for milk supply. You also need to keep super hydrated so make sure you’re drinking enough water and things like Rehydrate. If your room doesn’t have a fridge there’s normally a communal fridge that can be used. Luckily today we have meal delivery apps like Uber Eats; we ordered in a few meals. If you want to score brownie points with the nursing staff, pack a little treat for them too.
Don’t forget to pack a nice going home outfit and possibly even something special if you want to take photographs in the room. In the time of Covid don’t underestimate the power of your iPhone set to self-timer mode and use the portrait feature to snap some special shots of your little family unit. Take all of the photos and videos to look back on; force your partner to pick up the phone/camera and take photos of you, mama. Give your phone to the anaesthetist or a nurse during delivery to capture those first magical moments on your phone; they’re more than happy to do it.
What to Pack for Baby
Again, the items I’ve listed here are as a result of the hospital experiences I’ve had and I’m sure people would exclude some and include others that I’ve left off. This should serve as a really good guide though, again with a few hacks to make the experience as seamless as possible.
Changing station: the hospital I delivered in didn’t have any kind of formal changing station so using some towels I created a space in the bathroom on the counter-top (we had a pretty big bathroom as my hospital, Linkwood, is a maternity hospital only so couples have their own private room with a queen sized bed and a big private bathroom with a bath to labour in etc. It’s one of the reasons I chose Linkwood and my phenomenal gynae Dr. Naidoo who practices there). I strung my battery-operated starry lights over the mirror to create a magical ambient little space (no newborn wants to be thrust into bright light at every change); and fashioned a make-shift changing station with a flask full of warm water, cotton wool, nappies and baby-gros/onesies nearby. Do not use wipes on your baby, and definitely nothing fragranced; rather pack some facecloths that you can soak in warm water if you want something more substantial than cotton wool. Their skin and bodies are so delicate and sensitive and you don’t want to encounter any rashes. Same goes for bum-cream, opt for something thick and unscented like Sudocrem or Bepanthen.
Onesies: pack a few more than you think you’ll need, we had some blow-outs after the meconium had passed and changed baby more frequently than I was expecting. Also, depending on the size of your baby you may need both newborn and 0-3 month sizes in case. My boys were both 4kg+ so we didn’t need any newborn bits, but you’ll be surprised at how teeny a 2,8 – 3,2ish kg baby is. Mine felt miniscule and they were beasts.
I liked the peace of mind of having a bottle, breast pump and dummy with me. You never know if you’re going to need any of those items when you’re in hospital so I feel like it’s better to be on the prepared side. I’m also a big fan of sleep associations like a dummy and a little soft toy or taglet; I slept with my boys’ ones for a while before they were born to transfer my scent and I’ve had those bits nearby since day one. They now provide enormous comfort and make naps and sleep-time a breeze. Just don’t lose them. Ever.
We were gifted the incredible nesting pod from Ko-Coon and I loved having that in hospital; it’s definitely not an essential item but it fitted perfectly into the hospital bassinet and I felt it made for an amazing snug cocoon for baby. For all the reasons babies like being swaddled, this pod provided the same restriction and comfort. The womb is a snug place and this emulates that feeling to aid sleep and make baby feel secure. I also liked the pod because it’s easy to transfer a sleeping baby from bed to bassinet or couch or whatever when they’re in something like a pod.
If you’re into taking photos which I can highly recommend because you’ll never get these teeeeeny moments back; pack a few pretty onesies, hats and swaddles or muslins along with a name tag or some milestone cards to help style some gorgeous newborn snaps. Again, portrait mode on your iPhone if you have one takes a great snap and you can ask a friend or family member who can work their way around LightRoom to help you edit a few to frame. These first moments are priceless. Don’t forget the hat and something to cover the hospital bassinet matress with; most hospitals love to brand these moments and I’m personally not a fan of Netcare/[insert hospital group here] emblazoned all over my baby’s first photographs.
I haven’t included it here, but obviously don’t forget the car seat. Pop that bad-boy into the car a couple weeks before your due-date, you just never know and you don’t want to be figuring out an isofix base when you’re in labour or need to get to a hospital.
I haven’t gone through the obvious details, those are pretty self-explanatory. I hope this helps. Feel free to comment on this post if you have any amazing little hacks to add. Wishing you all the best in your pregnancy and journey into parent-hood; it’s wilder and more magical than you can ever anticipate.