Hospital Bags: Why You Need One and When to Start Packing

One thing I remember about my first pregnancy was having this deep internal need to be prepared for everything. I read books and articles about infant sleep training and breastfeeding. My husband wanted to wing it when putting in the infant car seat, but I wanted to read the manual and watch a video to make sure we installed it right. I talked to all my mom friends to make sure we bought the right baby gear and nursery items. I also read online and asked veteran moms what I should pack in my hospital bag.

So what should you pack in your hospital bag? Are there must-have and just nice-to-have items? When do you need to have your bag ready to go? Let me share with you what I’ve learned after having three babies.

When to Pack a Hospital Bag

Whether your OB has said they think you’ll go into labor early or late, the truth is you never really know when a baby will come (unless you have a scheduled c-section or induction). Recent due date statistics show that 80% of women deliver on time. That on-time delivery window isn’t an exact date, though. It’s between 37 and 42 weeks. You can try to naturally induce labor by walking every day and eating spicy foods, but that may just give you sore feet and heartburn instead of making your baby arrive by their due date. 

Babies are unpredictable. They come when they are ready to come. But if you’re a planner like me and want to be ready for your little one’s arrival, I’d suggest having your hospital bag packed between 36 and 38 weeks. If you are considered a high-risk pregnancy, for example, if you’re having multiples (congrats!), you probably want to have your bag packed around 35 weeks. 

Some moms-to-be start slowly packing their hospital bag once they enter their third trimester (27 weeks). Others wait until a week or two before their due date once they get into nesting mode. Do what your personality dictates. Just make sure you wait to add things like your toothbrush until right before you leave for the hospital.

Why You Need a Hospital Bag

Would you go on a weekend girls’ trip without packing a bag? Of course not! The same is true for heading to the hospital to have a baby. While the hospital will provide some things for you and your baby, they’re not a Target – they don’t have everything.

Packing a hospital bag ensures you not only have the essentials the hospital doesn’t provide, such as a nursing bra and car seat, but it also allows you to bring things from home to help you feel more comfortable and relaxed during delivery and while in recovery after your baby is born. Plus you’d never want to pass up the chance to buy and pack the cutest little outfit for your baby’s first picture!

Hospital Bag Checklists

If you’ve never had a baby in a hospital before then you may not know that most provide diapers, baby wipes, blankets and burp cloths to use during your stay, as well as stuff for your baby’s first bath. They’ll also have mesh underwear, pads, a hospital gown, pillows and towels for you. But take it from me, those last three aren’t what you’d find at a five-star hotel. Even if you use what the hospital provides, you’ll still want to pack some things of your own. 

The following lists are things to pack for you, your baby and your support person. Some are necessities and others are things I’ve found are just nice to have while in the hospital. And yes, this does mean you will need to pack more than one bag.

Mom’s Hospital Bag

  • ID card
  • Insurance card
  • Birth plan
  • Things to help pass the time while laboring (a book, games, a puzzle, music, etc.)
  • Warm socks or slippers
  • Comfortable, nursing-friendly pajamas or a nightgown
  • Loose, stretchy clothes and slip-on shoes to go home in (Remember, you’ll still look about 6 months pregnant and basically be wearing a diaper of your own when you leave so don’t pack your pre-pregnancy skinny jeans and crop top.)
  • Chapstick
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, body wash, face wash, hairbrush, hair ties or clips, etc.)
  • Cell phone and an extra-long phone charger
  • Non-perishable snacks (to eat during labor, if your practitioner allows you to, and after)
  • Gum or hard candy (Some women like having one of these while laboring.)
  • Pillows and a bath towel (Most hospital pillows are flat and their towels are scratchy and short.)
  • Nursing bras
  • Nursing pads
  • Nipple cream
  • Nursing pillow



Baby’s Hospital Bag

  • Going-home outfit
  • Receiving blanket,swaddle blanket or newborn baby sleep sack
  • Bottles and formula (if you plan to bottle-feed)
  • Pediatrician’s contact information
  • File folder (The hospital will send you home with informational papers and other keepsakes you’ll want to safely store together.)
  • Infant car seat (This doesn’t fit in a bag, but definitely don’t forget to put it in the car!)

Support Person’s Hospital Bag

  • Toiletries
  • Pajamas or loungewear
  • Change of clothes
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Entertainment (book, laptop, iPad, headphones, etc.)
  • Snacks and a reusable water bottle
  • Pillow and blanket (maybe even a sleep sack)

Another thing that all three of you can enjoy using in the hospital is a baby carrier. I personally love using a baby wrap during the newborn stage, but there are other types of baby carriers you can start using the day your baby is born.





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Kirsten Metcalf is a writer, editor and mother to a hilarious but very strong-willed toddler and a beautiful baby girl. She started writing short stories in elementary school and years later became a sports reporter and editor. Now, she mainly writes marketing, religious and parenting-related blog posts. Even before she knew she wanted to be a writer, Kirsten knew she wanted to be a mom. She knows being a mom is one of the most rewarding but hardest jobs out there, which is why she loves being able to share parenting knowledge and support to other moms through her writing. When she actually wins negotiations with her toddler, Kirsten likes to reward herself by watching KU basketball, eating cheesecake, or going on a Target run by herself.

September 6, 2020