I can remember packing my hospital bag when I hit the 24 week mark with my first baby. I felt that any earlier than this was 'tempting fate', but my midwife had told me that 24 weeks was sort of a safety zone, of sorts, when my baby stood a great chance of thriving if he came at any point from there on. As a first timer, I really had no idea what to pack. How long was I likely to be in the hospital for? Do people actually get dressed after giving birth or do they live in pyjamas for a week? (as I fully intended to if I could get away with it!) What should I pack for the baby? How many nappies do they usually get through? Should I pack formula milk even though I was preparing to give breastfeeding my best shot? Suffice it to say, I googled "what to put in your hospital bag" a lot, and by the time I'd read about a million different articles, offering varied advice, I found myself with not one but THREE bags, sat in the freshly painted nursery, waiting for D-Day. My husband asked me if I was secretly preparing to leave him at one point!! I realised it wasn't practical to carry that much into a hospital room. Especially as I'd be walking out holding a baby in a massive car seat too. I needed to simplify. So I asked my mum friends, what was the most useful thing they packed in their hospital bag - or more interestingly, what was the one thing they wish they'd had, but didn't... that feedback was absolutely essential, and proved to be so useful for me when I finally went into labour at 39+4 (yes ladies, I was technically 'early' - don't be fooled into thinking you'll go over your due date because it's your first, like I imagined I would!)
1. Lipbalm or Vaseline
Hospitals are dry environments and usually really hot. If you're using Gas and Air for pain relief, you'll definitely want a lipbalm - my lips were really sore from the plastic face mask I used in labor and the lipbalm really helped.
2. Sports Drink
Labour can go on for a reeeally long time, and can be exhausting. A sports drink will give you a lift when you need it the most, boosting you with a hit of glucose to help you through the worst of it. And when it runs out, you can refill it with tap water. I found that the gas and air was really dehydrating and I kept needing sips of fluids between contractions. The plastic cups the hospitals have are really hard to drink from when you're labouring in the downward dog position... a sports bottle with a spout will be invaluable. Trust me!
3. Maternity Pads
I hold my hands up and say, before I had my baby, I had zero idea about the bleeding after birth. I mean, I'd seen enough episodes of One Born Every Minute to know that there was blood when a baby came out - I wasn't clueless. But what I didn't know, is that your uterus takes about 4-6 weeks to actually heal from the loss of the placenta, and you'll have a heavy period for most of that time. And when I say heavy, I mean, imagine the heaviest period you've ever had in your life, and then double it! (At first, anyway.) Oh and it's not just blood. What you're losing from down there is known as lochia - a mixture of blood, discharge, and uterine tissue. Yep, pretty gross. Now you've been given a head's up, I promise it won't be all that bad. I just wish I'd known. So, first time frankie over here, packed a cute little pack of ten maternity pads in her hospital bag, which I promptly got through in about two hours. I had to get my husband to go to Boots and pick up a load more. They do have them in the loos on the maternity ward, so don't panic if you do run out. But I found Boots own brand to be far more comfortable and absorbent.
4. Cheap underwear
Speaking of post-natal bleeding, it's a really good idea to get yourself come dark coloured, cheap knickers that you fully intend to throw away. Primark sell them for £2 for a pack of 5. Be sure to get a size or two bigger than you'd normally buy, just in case you're sporting a dressing over a c-section scar, or a giant nappy in your pants (see above). People will tell you to buy disposable pants. These people have never worn a pair of disposable pants. Or if they have, they haven't had to try and hold a grown-up nappy inside them and walk around carrying a newborn baby. Trust me on this one, you will thank me later.
5, Non slip socks or Slippers
Essential. Hospitals are boiling hot, but walking around a hospital bare foot is gross. And if you're a socks-on person, you'll want to make sure you buy a pair with the non-slip bottom bits on them. It's really scary walking around with a newborn in your arms at first, particularly if you've had a long or traumatic labour, and you're a little bit shaky. The last thing you want is to feel unsafe wandering to and from the loo. Flip-flops are another good idea I've heard floated around, but personally I've always found them more slippery than socks, so rubber soled slippers worked best for me.
6. Ok, I said 5, but this one is essential... A Phone Charger
Apart from the obvious need to have a phone to stay in touch with loved ones who may or may not be aware that you're in labour, chances are you'll also need your phone to time your contractions, play your hypnobirthing affirmations/music - or birth music playlist, and browse Facebook if you're on the induction ward and waiting for things to get going. You will inevitably drain your battery. Now I know you're thinking that a phone charger is an obvious one, but you'd be amazed how many women on the maternity ward when I was there were asking each other to share their chargers because they'd run out of the house at 4am in a blind panic and forgotten it. So my advice is, BUY a new charging cable and LEAVE IT in the hospital bag. Do not be tempted to touch it. Even if it's the middle of the night and you're in bed and you suddenly remember you've left your charger in the kitchen. You will be absolutely gutted if you forget to replace it, and when the day comes, you rock up to the hospital without it. Nothing kills the buzz of the gas and air like Spotify dying on you mid contraction...
Good Luck if you're awaiting the birth of your baby. It's an incredible experience, bringing life into the world. You were made to do this, and you'll get through it in your own way. And don't forget to share any hospital bag tips with your friends when it's their turn!