One of (the many!) things you’ll need to do when you’re preparing for birth is packing a bag for the hospital or birth center. Or, if you’re birthing at home, you can simply choose a spot where you’ll keep items so they’re easy to find when you need them.
The following is a list of things that were (or would have been) useful during both of my hospital births – my first was a cesarean and my second was a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean), and I labored around 36 hours for each. You certainly don’t need all of these items, and the list isn’t meant to be comprehensive – it’s to get your wheels turning so you can be as prepared for what you’ll need for yourself during labor, birth, and your recovery stay.
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First on the list are the personal care items you use on a regular basis. My skin can get really dry, so my face wash and moisturizer are things I don’t want to be without. But in the hospital, my usual make-up and haircare products would go unused. Figure out your can’t-live-without-them products and make sure they’re on your packing list! Other things to bring are hair ties or headbands, phone chargers, and a cozy outfit to go home in. You may also want to bring digital or hard copy ultrasound photos of your baby! There’s nothing to motivate you like seeing the most recent scan and remembering you’re on this journey together, about to meet for the first time. Pictures of faraway friends or family members, or loved ones you’ve lost can do wonders as well – people whose love gives you strength and memories give you comfort.
Setting the Mood
Your surroundings can play a major role in your stress levels and ability to relax. Especially if you’re in a hospital, there are people talking, machines beeping, doctors being paged, nurses checking your vitals – it’s not inherently a peaceful place. But there’s a lot you can do to transform your space into a sensorial haven.
After dark, you can turn off the harsh fluorescents and add soft, warm lighting with flameless candles or LED fairy lights. I recommend using something battery-operated because you never know how many outlets you’ll have access to or where they’ll be located. If you’re in need of complete darkness – whether at night or during the day – this sleeping mask is meant to create a complete blackout for you. It has an adjustable band so it’s not too loose or tight; it’s also designed to put minimal pressure on your eyes and eliminate the gap around your nose that most masks have.
Create the vibe that’s going to destress and relax you during labor or get you pumped for pushing by putting together a playlist or tuning into your favorite station on Spotify or Pandora. You could also look for sounds like a babbling brook or ocean waves if you find that more soothing than music. Bring wireless ear buds if you want to focus internally or zone out, or a portable speaker to play in the whole room. I love both of these products from JLB, especially because you can use them for a long time to come – work out or listen to podcasts with the wireless head phones, and use the Flip 5 to play music in any room in your home or even in the shower (it’s water resistant). The speaker also comes in a bunch of fun colors (surprise, surprise, I have the pink one!). Both of them have a decent battery life, but bring a charger with you to the hospital just in case.
Essential oils are not only an instant signal to your mind and body that your self care is being prioritized, but they also bring a lot of other benefits with them. Lavender and chamomile are known for their calming and soothing properties, which can create a tranquil atmosphere, promote relaxation, and reduce anxiety and stress. Peppermint and clary sage have analgesic properties, which can help alleviate pain and discomfort during contractions. Rosemary and peppermint can enhance mental clarity and focus, which can be especially helpful during the active phase of labor. And if you’re experiencing nausea, ginger or lemon could help ease that for you. You don’t need to go overboard with these, which could have the opposite effect, but choose one or two you think will make the biggest difference for you. There are a lot of ways you can use these. At home, you might want to use a diffuser, but that might not be practical in a hospital or birth center setting. So, it may be better to bring a bottle with diluted oil to spray on your pillow or linens, or to dilute it and use it topically. (Always ask your provider if it’s OK to use essential oils – especially topically – when you’re pregnant or nursing.) I like Plant Therapy Essential Oils because I find their oils to be high quality and reasonably priced. They also offer singles, blends, and pre-diluted roll-ons, so you don’t have to make your own bottles.
You’re likely going to be walking around and getting into a variety of positions during labor and birth, and a hospital gown just isn’t the most conducive to comfort and freedom of movement. I love this gown from Kindred Bravely, which is made especially for labor, birth, and your hospital stay. It opens all the way down the front for fetal monitoring and easy skin-to-skin after birth, has snaps on the shoulder straps for easy nursing access, and Velcro on the back for epidural access. I recommend getting it in a dark color like black, navy, or burgundy, in case any fluids get on it, getting a second one for your recovery, and bringing a long, soft cardigan to wear over it in case you get chilly when you’re walking around. The hospital will likely provide you with some non-slip socks… but those, too, aren’t the always most comfortable. If your feet tend to get cold, consider bringing your favorite socks from home, along with slippers with a rubber sole. Or bring some soft grippy socks of your own. You’re going to be working hard during labor! If you get toasty, shed that cardigan and whip out a portable fan to cool you down.
You’ll want to make sure you drink often throughout labor. You’ll have access to ice and water at the hospital, so be sure to bring your favorite water bottle, and consider these silicone straws so it’s easy to sip no matter what position you’re in. My go-to drink is Gerolsteiner sparkling mineral water – specifically in a glass bottle – and nothing quenches my thirst quite like it. If you have a favorite beverage or something you’ve been craving lately, bring that along, too – whatever’s going to motivate you to stay hydrated!
If you’re working with a doula, they’ll probably have their own bag filled with tools to bring you comfort while you labor. It’s also possible your birth place will have a couple of these on hand, like a birth ball. But if not, or you just want your own, here are some items to consider.
Massagers not only help you relax, but can also go a long way in relieving muscle pain. I love both of these because you can use them on your own, or your birth partner can massage you with them. Use the wooden roller on your back, hips, neck, and legs for general relief, and the reflexology massager for deeper, specific points that need extra pressure. If you’ve never had a scalp massage, you’ve missed out! For me, the sense of relaxation is instantaneous, and even though it’s just on my scalp, the sensation is full-body. You can do this yourself, but it’s especially effective if your birth partner uses their fingertips or this tool on you.
Exercise balls like this offer versatile support during labor. They can ease lower back discomfort by allowing gentle swaying and bouncing, and they make it easier for you to get into positions that promote pelvic mobility and optimal positioning for baby. An upright posture can also aid in the baby’s rotation and descent, and certain positions can make it easier for your birth partner or doula to apply counter-pressure to your lower back. Both the birth and peanut ball (which, as you may have guessed, is shaped like a peanut!) also give you comfortable resting options between contractions. Place the peanut ball between your legs when you’re lying on your side to alleviate pressure on your hips and keep your pelvis open. If your baby enjoys a deep, rhythmic bouncing like mine did, the birth ball can save your back when you’re home! You can also use the birth ball for a variety of home exercises postpartum and beyond.
Rebozos are traditional Mexican shawls that are several feet long and can be used for comfort measures like providing counter-pressure during contractions, or assisting with labor positions. They can also help with opening the pelvis. They’re gorgeous, hand-woven, and have been used in Mexico for centuries. If you purchase a Rebozo, please make sure it’s ethically sourced from an artisan in Mexico, like these from Antama Textiles (don’t forget to switch the currency to USD!).
I’m sure you’ve heard that focusing on something can help you during labor – you can choose your birth partner, an object that’s already in the hospital, or one of the photos I mentioned earlier. If you’re looking for something specific that can also help with your state of mind and give you some extra encouragement when you may need it most, look for birth affirmation cards that resonate with you. These cards have and affirmations like, “my body was made to birth,” and “my breaths are my power.” Repeat those and focus on the beautiful botanical designs to get an extra boost of empowerment. You’ve got this!
Whether you have a vaginal or cesarean birth, your body – especially your perineum – is going to need some TLC after baby arrives.
You can expect to be bleeding – most likely the flow of a heavy period – for the next several days. The hospital will give you pads, but I found them to be stiff and thick, and far preferred these. They’re for heavy flow and extra long for overnight protection, which also applies if you’re in bed recovering.
If your perineum is sore or has stitches, products like Motherlove’s sitz bath spray can help bring relief. If you need something with extra strength, Dermoplast can work wonders. Always ask your provider before using anything topical like either of these. You’ll most likely get a peri bottle at the hospital. But just in case, or if you prefer one with an angled spout for easier access to your sore spots with less contortionism required, consider bringing one of your own. Simply fill with warm water (body temperature), position yourself on the toilet, and squeeze the bottle for a gentle, continuous stream to clean and sooth your perineum. Add some witch hazel and aloe foam to the bottle for extra relief.
Heat & Ice
One of the most effective ways to relieve any pain is with hot and cold therapy – the same is true for pain and discomfort during your postpartum recovery. Use one of the pads I mentioned above to create a “padsicle” – pour water on it and put it in the freezer, and voila! You have an ice pack for your perineum. Use a thin towel or piece of fabric between the pack and your skin if it’s too intense. The numbing effect can be extremely helpful during your recovery. These hot and cold packs from Lansinoh are the perfect shape (similar to a pad), don’t require as much work, and aren’t messy when they warm up if frozen. There are two in the pack, so you can use one while the other is in the freezer or getting heated. While I personally didn’t find heat to be beneficial with respect to perineum soreness, it worked wonders on my cesarean incision, neck, and shoulders, which definitely made a difference in my recovery.
- Homemory 12-Pack Flameless LED Candles
- Ariceleo Led Fairy Lights
- Mavogel Cotton Sleep Eye Mask
- JBL Vibe Beam True Wireless Headphones
- JBL Flip 5 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker
- Plant Therapy All Natural Blissful Dreams Lavender Pillow and Linen Spray
- Plant Therapy Amazon Store
- Kindred Bravely Ruffle Strap Labor and Delivery Gown
- Gripjoy Socks with Grips for Women
- JISULIFE Handheld Fan
- SeaTurtle Silicone Straws
- Hathkaam Wooden Massager
- Broman Reflexology Tool
- NICEMOVIC Head Massager
- Trideer Yoga Ball
- INPANY Peanut Ball
- Rebozos from Antama Textiles
- PartumApothecary Birth Affirmation Cards
- U by Kotex Clean & Secure Overnight Maxi Pads with Wings
- Motherlove Sitz Bath Spray
- Dermoplast First Aid Spray, Analgesic & Antiseptic Spray
- POPPED Peri Bottle
- POPPED Witch Hazel Foam with Aloe
- Lansinoh Hot and Cold Pads
In the future, I’ll create a list for items to pack for baby, as well as tips for setting up your home for postpartum recovery and life with your newborn, so stay tuned!
I hope you find this helpful – let me know if there’s anything you found especially useful or if you have any other items you’d add to the list. You can always reach out via email at email@example.com.