baby proof: packing a hospital bag.

May 13, 2014
hospital bag For lots of reasons, James and I are keeping our fingers crossed for a low-intervention birth with midwives at a place not too far away from home. If everything goes according to plan, we hope to deliver this little Junebug naturally at a local birthing center in Manhattan and since we won’t be in our own tiny apartment for the actual birth, we’ve begun to do a little bit of preparation.

In anticipation of the any-day-or-week-now arrival (and at the risk of a post that’s more than a little stuff heavy), here’s a collection of things that we’re planning to tote with us in our ‘hospital’ bag. (Can’t fit the kitchen sink, so…)

hospital bag
For both of us:
Our trusty toothbrushes.
Our favorite natural deodorant.
For me:
A sweet-smelling massage oil.
Bendy straws for helping me to stay hydrated.
My trusty water bottle.
Lavender essential oil.
Lip balm.
Comforting tea (Second time around: Mother’s Milk).
A well-worn robe (here’s a new favorite).
My favorite chemise. (Plus a pair of trusty pajama pants, sized up for extra comfort.)
A quickie blood sugar booster.
My comfiest dress for wearing home. (Second time around: Swapping leggings and a cozy sweatshirt for the wintertime).

For James:
His swim trunks. (No naked papas allowed in the tub.)

For the babe:
The softest new blanket from a grammy. (Second time around: This beauty.)
A few tiny clothing options from an auntie. (Second time around: Two winterappropriate choices. Plus a tiny winter hat.)

For the big sister:
A special little something to play with and love (in addition to her new sibling.)

PS. For any locals interested in natural childbirth we’ve been taking Bradley Method classes with the very lovely Mary Esther Malloy. Wholeheartedly recommended for anyone in the city looking for a little extra support. 

PPS. This post was updated before the birth of my second kiddo (January 2017). Having given birth once before I have a few pearls of wisdom to add, to be taken along with grains of salt, of course. The first is that no two birth experiences will be the same and so try as we might to prepare a bag that’s useful or helpful there will be needs we don’t think of or details we forget or things that arrive that are simple beyond our control. I, for one, upon writing this list the first time, woefully underestimated my own need for postpartum underwear and pads and other items for personal care that I was thankful the birthing center had thought of for me. I’ll be relying on the birth center’s help for those supplies again this time around, but in case you’re not sure you’ll be provided, I would agree with some of the commenters here (though in perhaps a gentler manner) that it was helpful and wise to have a stock of stretchy, disposable underwear at the ready. Witch hazel pads helped immensely with swelling. Thick sanitary napkins were essential. For me, coming home with a hospital-provided sitz bath was undeniably necessary. As for all of the other specifics, they’re just ideas, not requirements. And remember: You got this, regardless of what’s in your bag.

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  • Reply Jodi May 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Waiting for baby – so special.

    I've birthed two babes and I teach pre-natal yoga so I tend to talk about birth and hospital bags at least once a week. I highly recommend taking your own pillow. At one stage or another you'll want to bury your head into something and nothing is quite as relaxing as the smell of your own bed. Pack a thick headband to make sure your hair stays out of the way and when it comes to undies – pack more than you think you need and always choose black.

    And perhaps more important than anything in your bag…….deep breaths, soft lips, open heart x

  • Reply moni.zuza May 13, 2014 at 1:06 pm

    Mine also has the camera and charger, a nursing pillow, nursing bra, and nursing cami. Best of luck on a natural birth – hoping for that myself!

  • Reply Debbie May 13, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    The only thing I would say is take bigger knickers!!! The ones you've chosen are very small and you will want big, comfy all enveloping ones I promise. x

  • Reply Clare B May 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Grandma undies are a must. Plus food for James – best suggestion from my midwife. You won't get so hungry, but I promise you, he will.

  • Reply Alexa May 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    thinking of you these next few days/weeks!

  • Reply Sophia May 13, 2014 at 1:45 pm

    During my actual labor, I used nothing of what I had brought. I could have cared less about any of it. All I needed was the warm water in that bath tub.
    Dark colored panties are a must for afterward, and in my experience it didn't matter how big they were, because it's allll about the pads anyway, so as long as those panties can hold two pads, you're good to go.

    Next time, I'd bring my nursing pillow. You can manage fine with regular pillows but nursing pillows are easier. (As an aside, I broke down and got a regular old boppy after really trying to use my organic husk-filled one for a month–there's no comparison, boppys are better.)

    I love what the first commenter said…"deep breaths, soft lips…" (and I would add, soft eyebrows, too; ok, just soft face in general makes ALL the difference in the world of labor)…"open heart"…lovely…Wishing you a great experience, there's nothing like it!

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:08 am

      ha! totally. (and many thanks!)

  • Reply dina May 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Two more things. 1) bigger undies to hold 2) the biggest pads you can find. For after, y'know? And don't forget nappies/ diapers for the baby.
    I was glad to have my nursing bra and bra pads, as I let down right away. Best wishes!

  • Reply Brooke Manolis May 13, 2014 at 2:03 pm

    This post is quite timely! I'm about to pack my hospital bag, even though I have a about a month to go, and I need some inspiration as far as the extra things to pack. You inspired me to bro along my lavender essential oil!

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

      Good luck to you!

  • Reply DontBlameTheKids May 13, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Both of my babies came early (one was two months early), so I never packed a hospital bag. The only thing I really regretted not having was the lip balm. Such a little thing, such a big difference in comfort! Pack a back up.

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Seriously, it's the one thing I actually really care about!

  • Reply holtkamp May 13, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    I liked the disposable underwear that's made I think for old people. I never had to worry about cleaning it or using what the hospital had. And they are super inexpensive!

  • Reply Claudia May 13, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    I would go with "high coverage" cheap underwear (and big pads – sorry no diva cup right after birth) because there will probably be little blood and fluid accidents.

    As I tell my clients (I'm a volunteer doula working with new immigrants…and without much financial ressources) that as long as they have big underwear and big pads, everything else is just little extras…baby will come out even without your – insert whatever clothe-object-thing – !

    Labor is, in theory, a very minimalist experience 😉

    Oh, also white fabric + newborn can be a bit annoying as meconium is not that fun to clean!

  • Reply Anna May 13, 2014 at 4:09 pm

    If you're going to be nursing, I'd recommend bringing some kind of lanolin cream along–that was one thing I forgot and while my nurse did find some sample packs of it for me, it would have been easier if I'd remembered. A few diapers are probably a good idea, too, if you don't know whether or not the birthing centre provides diapers for when you're there. Find out if they provide soap/shampoo or if you need to bring your own, because if you possibly can, you will want to shower sometime soon after giving birth–it is a messy, sweaty process, even if you're doing a water birth. And hot water feels really fantastic on your sore muscles afterwards.

    We definitely brought more than we really needed to–I brought a knitting project, optimistically thinking I'd have time to knit between contractions because of how the book said they would go. But by the time I was officially in labour and the hospital was going to admit me, I was getting a couple contractions in rapid succession, followed by a couple minutes of breathing space–not enough time to remember what I was doing with the pattern. And we brought a few different outfits, not sure what would fit on our baby. Turned out everything was too big, and the socks fell off, so I could have just grabbed a random onesie and called it good. Our hospital told us to bring diapers and then turned out to provide diapers for while we were there, so we didn't get her into the cloth diapers until after we got home the next day.

  • Reply Kari May 13, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    For after the birth, you will need all that stuff. For during labor, I promise you'll need nothing but water, lip balm, and food for James. Also, even if the birth turns out not to be natural, remember that all that matters is that you had a baby. Do not feel like a failure if it doesn't go as planned. I ended up needing intervention with both my kids. Not what I planned, but the results were worth it, no matter what.

  • Reply Kimberly May 13, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    This is a good list. I definitely recommend a hair tie and a head band to keep your hair out of your face. Bigger underwear that you don't mind throwing away. A top that you can nurse in, and your nursing pillow. And bring your baby book so you can get his or her feet stamped into the book.

  • Reply sk May 13, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    good ideas! we welcomed our baby almost 2 years ago now, at home, and it was such a fast birth that the birthing tub didn't even get filled, and we totally forgot to put on our carefully-crafted playlist 🙂
    That deodorant sounds nice– I make a similar one with shea butter and baking soda and it's the ONLY (natural) thing that works for me! Also, my midwife had me wearing adult diapers for a few days after the birth (not to eliminate in!!!) and it may sound awful but it was quite wonderful to not have to worry about a heavy flow. Best of luck to you and I can't wait to read about the birth!

  • Reply sk May 13, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    And might I suggest these nursing gowns? I LIVED in them for months after the baby was born!

  • Reply Anonymous May 13, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    an open mind. 🙂

    more than likely, you'll have the birth you want. bradley is an excellent program, and there are a lot of unnecessary components to childbirth these days. going medication-free is wonderful for those that are up for it.

    but for those of us who do, only to see it not work, can be traumatizing. my daughter was born six-and-a-half years ago. this reply isn't to ignite any debate or chose 'sides'. because frankly, I fall on both (all?) sides. what breaks my heart is that it took several YEARS to appreciate that I hadn't done anything wrong. she was born healthy – via c/section after an exhausting three days and every possible alternative. exhausting physically, of course, but mentally and psychologically above all else.

    this is just a quick note for the other pregnant or new mama's out there too. don't make my mistake: I missed the point for a realllly long time. my daughter was born healthy. and I am healthy. here to enjoy her hilariously funny stories, clever ideas, adorable laugh, and freckled face. I could care less today how she entered the world in 2007, but I would be lying if I said it didn't take a lot of soul searching to get there. this is the single best thing you've ever done, no matter what. open heart, definitely. open mind, too. 🙂 XOXO


    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:12 am

      Couldn't agree more. Really glad to pursuing a natural birth without getting too hung up on the specifics of a plan! Truth is: everyone's a birth warrior…100% natural birth or otherwise! Thanks for writing.

  • Reply Caitlin May 13, 2014 at 5:16 pm

    Good luck to you!!! Can't wait to "meet" the little Junebug 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous May 13, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    I worked on a postpartum floor for a while and was just about to implore you to buy bigger underwear but I see above I was beat to it! Your birthing clinic very well may have the same type of underwear the hospital provides. My patients always called them the most comfortable granny panties in the world!

  • Reply Alexa Stipkala May 13, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    We didn't end up using much from our packed bag as some others have already mentioned. My humble two cents are: a top that is easy to nurse in and a tiny hat- we didn't expect to need a hat for our little one on such a warm night. Our birth center provided one but we would have loved to have picked out a special one. Also, we didn't use the scented goodies we had prepared but dimmed lights really helped create a more soothing atmosphere.

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Ah, yes! Definitely hoping to dim those lights!

  • Reply Shannon May 14, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Awww, what a big step! Sigh, I packed many of the same things with my first, including a very detailed birth plan that promptly got thrown out the window. I don't believe I unpacked a single item… maybe some clean clothes the day I departed, but otherwise we were way too distracted! I believe I even had lollipops to stay hydrated (?)

    Now my second one was a totally different labor (much slower paced) and I actually did like some of the random things I packed! But I think the most important thing to remember is that the birth is just a small moment in what will hopefully amount to a long lifetime together with your little one. 🙂 Years later, the details are foggy, but my sons and their sweet personalities are still here.

    Good luck!

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:15 am

      ha! james came home with honey sticks yesterday…we'll see if they get cracked!

  • Reply secretfragileskies May 14, 2014 at 2:44 am

    Each of our four sons was delivered quickly and without meds. I nursed them all. We always packed a cooler with champagne (keep a chilled bottle just for this) and sandwiches to celebrate afterwards – you may be hungry! It is the happiest of times – best of luck!

  • Reply Faye Larsen May 14, 2014 at 3:26 am

    I just gave birth to my third child twelve days ago. Each birth has been vastly different, but as others have already wisely noted above, it's worth not getting too hung up on the birthing 'experience' and everything surrounding it being perfect, when it is ultimately often out of our control and instead focus on the amazing end product 🙂 Oh and definitely bigger, comfier panties, ones you won't mind throwing away if there are any pad leaks. And a nursing bra. AnD a camera of course for those all important first shots. Best of luck, such an exciting time.

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

      Congratulations! Doing my best to be as informed and prepared as possible, without being too rigid!

  • Reply Catherine May 14, 2014 at 4:48 am

    Bradley method was great for us on both births. My key ingredients were a totally engaged and helpful husband, and ice chips!

    • Reply Erin May 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

      So comforting to hear it!

  • Reply emily @ cabin fervor May 14, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    My labor was only 3 hours long, from first contraction to sweet cooing babe, so all the comforting labor items were long forgotten for us. I do recommend nursing pads because lanolin leaves grease stains on your clothes, The Nursing Mother's Companion (for a great quick reference on breastfeeding if the lactation consultant isn't nearby), and the Baby Feeding Log app for your phone to track feedings and dirty diapers. And definitely your camera! Best wishes for a healthy delivery! I'm eagerly awaiting a new nephew over here who seems to be on a similar timeline as your little one, so it's exciting times all around.

    (Note: I had these nursing pads and loved them —

  • Reply meg May 14, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    I had some nausea during labor and having some spearmint gum/mint lifesaver was so wonderful. Congrats!

  • Reply Anonymous May 14, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Someone recommended NATURA all natural pads and they were a god send. Loved them, didn't irritate. Heaven. Beyond that, big undies and a bottle of champagne and a direct line to the best take out sushi restaurant. Good luck, thrilled for you. Marny

  • Reply Callie May 14, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    I also had a natural birth and brought a lot of essential oils and soothing music but I didnt use any of it! It was work, hard work… but worth it of course. I would be careful with bars containing nuts. Nuts do not feel very good coming back up-hurts! Think smooth cool foods like cut up chilled fruits. Also, the ugly hospital/birthing center underwear is amazing. I even stole a few to bring home. You may want to stay away from your beautiful organic undees for at least a few weeks! My sister brought me a huge milk shake (which I never eat) the day after the birth and it was THE best thing I have ever tasted.

  • Reply Kate May 14, 2014 at 11:14 pm

    I also went the birthing center route and so much of this is fantastic advice. I don't remember much, but honey sticks were wonderful! And the unfortunate truth was that depends were a laundry saver for sure. Just SO much easier to pitch those for the first week than to wrap my head around the potentially mass quantities of borax and oxyclean I'd need to add to the laundry to salvage my good undies!

    All the best for a calm, smooth, and safe delivery!

  • Reply Kristie Smith May 15, 2014 at 11:53 am

    We took the Bradley Method class here in Birmingham last summer and I had our son naturally in September (no birthing centers here in AL, and no midwives either, but thankfully our doctor was pretty supportive). I truly believe that with the right preparation (and barring and major complications) all women can birth without drugs and most interventions! You are going to rock this 🙂

  • Reply Heidi May 15, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    such an exciting time!

    my husband removed the clock right away. i didn't want to know how loooong everything took, and i was definitely delusional about the time, which is a very good thing. my doula brought battery-operated candles, so we were able to have the lights off. highly recommend. socks you can throw away are great for pacing (LOTS of fluids going on…).

    i couldn't eat during labor, but i drank a lot of juice to keep my energy up. i was starving after though! those bars will come in handy then!

    i brought my own blanket, too, for recovery. medical centers aren't cozy enough for me!

    best of luck! she believed she could so she did!

  • Reply Suzanne May 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    Love what you have packed (and the bag you packed it in)! You're super on top of things! I'm want to try the deodorant you use. 🙂

    I had planned to birth in a birth center but an emergency health issue (cholestasis of pregnancy) required an induction 2.5 weeks early. So my bag-packing was a bit rushed. Thankfully, a few days before I had stocked up on coconut water and some snacks per my midwives suggestions of what to bring. The coconut water was a true life-saver during labor! In between contractions, my midwife would hold out a tall cup of ice and coconut water for me to drink through the straw. Labor was hard but those cool, refreshing gulps were an amazing relief! A heating pad on my back and the encouragement of my husband were also the best aids. And also the bites of food I snuck when the nurses were out!

    After our babe's birth, I immediately started using some nipple balm after nursings and had very minimal soreness!

    In addition to this, I had a bamboo robe and chemise for myself and clothes and blankets for baby. Should have brought a toothbrush but forgot it.

    One suggestion–I'm not sure how big your baby will be, but much of the Under the Nile clothing runs big. Their newborn sets seem to be a bit smaller and maybe would shrink. But you may consider having one smaller outfit or even a gown as sizing doesn't matter as much.

  • Reply Amy Blake May 17, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Any day now! So excited for you!

    Bigger underwear, for sure. Those are cute but won't be very helpful holding a pad. I have birth in our local hospital birthing center, which isn't ideal for a lot of people but where we live, I believe it is the best choice. And the staff was outstanding. Having said that, I took advantage of what they offered: gowns, disposable panties, everything. I actually became a huge fan of boy short underwear after that. I took my own bathrobe but generally didn't want I mess up any of my own things while I was in the hospital.

  • Reply Des Haigh May 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    congrats and happy babymoon you and yours! my one recommend to any new momma is to make a set of frozen pads for postpartum: steep comfrey leaves in hot water for an hour, let cool, add a bottle of witch hazel and soak organic disposal pads then freeze. but for your bag, your own music might be a nice bring along and mints for any of your birth assistance you might need them 🙂

  • Reply Rachel May 19, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    You put together a lovely baby bag! My bag had similar contents but I also packed face wash and my favorite moisturizer. I forgot chapstick and while I was in labor one of my friends came to visit and I had to borrow her lip gloss so I had something to moisturizer my lips. I also packed my camera.


  • Reply kari May 23, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Love the canvas bag you're using for a hospital bag–thanks for including the link.

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  • Reply Nancy Cavillones January 11, 2015 at 7:42 am

    I know this post is older, but just discovering your blog thanks to the Today show piece, and been reading it all night. Had to stop and comment that I also took my Bradley class with Mary Esther, at her house in Westchester. Love that woman!!

  • Reply Séverine February 1, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Great post !
    Is this bag big enough for a weekend ? or would you rather suggest the Escape Bag from Forestbound ?
    Thank you !

    • Reply Erin Boyle February 1, 2016 at 10:37 am

      I’d say they’re about the same size volume-wise! This one zips if you’re worried about things falling out while traveling, but both are great!

      • Reply Séverine February 1, 2016 at 10:41 am

        Thank you so much Erin !
        I discovered your blog a few weeks ago and I love it so much ! I can’t wait to get your book (it isn’t released yet in France) !

        • Reply Erin Boyle February 1, 2016 at 11:29 am

          So glad! Soon!

  • Reply Kir October 19, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Thought I would let you know that most of the links here are broken now! I’m sure you’ll update in a few months when you’re readying for #3, but wanted to tell you anyway 🙂

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