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Illustration by Brittany England

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Giving birth isn’t exactly a picnic. It isn’t a vacation, either — but delivery of your baby is a time when you’ll likely be staying away from home for at least 24 hours (uncomplicated vaginal delivery) to between 2 to 4 days (cesarean delivery) and sometimes longer.

Your hospital will provide the most basic things you’ll need to care for yourself during and after birth. But where’s the fun in bare bones essentials?

If you want your experience to be a little, well, extra, then you’ll want to thoughtfully pack your bags in advance. Here’s what you can expect your hospital or birthing center to provide and what you may want to bring for yourself, your baby, and your partner.

Just about 5 percent of babies are born on their actual due date.

In reality, your baby may come a couple weeks before or after when you’re expecting. Consider packing your bags at least 3 weeks before your due date. This gives you a bit of time for the unexpected.

If you have any indications you may go into preterm labor or otherwise have your baby on the early side, you may want to pack up your stuff sooner.

Related: 6 telltale signs of labor

You’ve probably read over a bunch of packing lists that seem beyond comprehensive. You don’t need to bring everything and the kitchen sink. In fact, even if you don’t pack a thing, your hospital likely has your basic needs covered. That should be a load off your shoulders — literally!

All facilities are different, though, so if you have any questions, be sure to call to ask before you arrive. You may even want to schedule a hospital tour during your pregnancy to learn more about what you can expect during your stay.

For mom, birth centers generally provide:

  • hospital gowns
  • grip socks
  • birthing ball and other labor tools, like personal massagers
  • large cups for water and ice
  • basic toiletries — soap, shampoo, toothbrush/toothpaste
  • disposable mesh underwear (it’s not the most attractive, but it does the job)
  • thick sanitary pads
  • after-care items, like witch hazel pads and peri bottles
  • prescription and non-prescription medications
  • standard pillows and blankets

For baby:

  • preemie, newborn, or size 1 diapers
  • basic wipes
  • flannel swaddle blanket(s)
  • hospital-branded onesies
  • standard knit hat
  • shampoo/soap
  • pacifiers
  • formula (Some “baby-friendly” hospitals only offer formula if it’s considered medically necessary. Call your hospital to find out about its policy on formula.)
  • prescription and non-prescription medications if needed

And before you think of what to pack, you should know that hospitals suggest not packing expensive items, like:

  • wedding rings and other jewelry
  • laptops and tablets
  • loads of cash (because we all have that lying around, right?!)

Basically, avoid bringing anything that you’d miss if you accidentally lost it. We promise, your items will be far from your mind when you hold your little one for the very first time!

While you’ll have the basics provided by the hospital, having familiar items from home can make you feel so much more at ease. (As exciting as mesh undies sound, you’ll be more comfortable in your own — we guarantee it.)

Before you pack, you may want to call your hospital to make sure they don’t have any rules regarding what you wear. Some, for example, may prefer or require you to wear the hospital-issued gown during the actual birth itself.

While this list looks quite long, it should all mostly fit into a single overnight bag.

  • Your ID. This seems obvious, but you’ll need some identification at check-in. You’ll also possibly need your insurance card and any other documents your doctor gave you for admission.
  • Medications list. You’ll probably be asked this information at check-in. And possibly again once you’re settled. If you’re in labor, it may be difficult to remember everything you’re taking — it’s a lot easier to just hand over a piece of paper.
  • Medications. Yes, if you’re on any common prescription medications, the hospital pharmacy can typically provide them — but possibly at a higher cost than what you usually pay. And if you’re on any less common drugs, the hospital might not have any stock on hand. Bringing your own can avoid these potential headaches.
  • Credit card or small amount of cash. You may want to use the vending machine or get something from the gift shop or cafeteria during your stay.
  • Birth plan. If you have a specific birth plan that you’ve drafted, bring a copy or two of it with you.
  • Personal hospital gown or pajamas. Yes, you can buy your own hospital gown or change into one after you deliver. On Gownies, pretty gowns cost around $30. If you get a custom one made to your tastes, the price may be significantly higher. You might instead consider wearing a nightgown — one that is dark and easy access for monitors during labor/delivery and breastfeeding after birth.
  • Non-skid socks or slippers. If you don’t like the hospital socks, you can bring your own. It’s key that whatever you choose has grips for safety. Sure, the delivery room floor might not exactly double as a dance floor — but you will be walking around when you can.
  • Birth playlist. This can be music, meditations, or any other audio you want to play during labor and delivery.
  • Book. Or a magazine or other reading material. This is helpful in case you’re waiting a while for the main event.
  • Cell phone and charger. Depending on how fast or slow everything goes, you may want some entertainment or even the option to call a friend while you’re laboring. And you know your social media friends would love updates! You can also store your music or audio on your phone.
  • Toiletries. You can go as simple as some travel shampoos, toothbrush/toothpaste, a brush, deodorant, and a bar of soap. Or you can bring your whole makeup kit and fancy hair products (especially if you’re having professional birth photos taken). Don’t forget stuff like hair bands, lip balm, and lotion, if you tend to have dry skin.
  • Hair dryer. You may or may not be able to bring a hair dryer or other plug-in devices. Call ahead to find out the rules.
  • Glasses and/or contacts. They may be the last thing on your mind, but you’ll also want to bring glasses and contact lens supplies, like a case and saline solution.
  • Underwear. The hospital’s mesh underwear can be a godsend in the first day or so of heavy postpartum bleeding. But slipping into your own may be more comfortable after that. You’ll be wearing pads, so consider sizing up and choosing full coverage styles. And pick dark colors that hide stains well. You can also buy your own disposable underwear if you prefer it.
  • Pads. The hospital provides thick pads. If you want thinner ones, bring them from home. You shouldn’t use tampons after delivery.
  • Nursing bra or supportive bra. Whether or not you’re planning to breastfeed, your milk will probably come in during the hours and days after birth. A supportive bra can help with discomfort. A nursing bra will give you easy access to feed baby.
  • Breastfeeding cover and pads or pillow. Expecting guests? You may feel more comfortable using a nursing cover in those early marathon breastfeeding sessions. Or not — it’s really up to you. You might also want some nursing pads for leaks. You may even want to bring a breastfeeding pillow for support.
  • Breast pump and other nursing supplies. You certainly don’t have to bring your pump if you don’t plan to pump exclusively. And the hospital can provide one if you end up needing it unexpectedly. Still, if you’d like help learning how to use your pump, you can ask a lactation consultant to show you the ropes.
  • Comfortable clothes. Some women stay in the hospital gown their entire time at the hospital. That’s totally fine. If you would rather slip into some loose clothing of your own — that’s cool, too. Think dark-colored yoga pants, nursing or button-down shirts, and other loungey clothing, like a robe, with easy access for breastfeeding.
  • Going home outfit. Don’t forget to think about what you’ll want to wear home. If you’re packing in advance, be sure to consider the weather in your wardrobe decisions. You might even find an adorable matching number for you and baby.
  • Pillow. Are you particular about the pillow you use? Bring your favorite. And slip it into a colorful pillowcase so it won’t blend in with the hospital pillows.
  • Flip flops. Yes, hospital floors and showers are cleaned regularly. But, you know, you may just feel more comfortable showering with added protection.

If you know you’re having a cesarean delivery, also consider these items:

  • Support underwear. Bringing some C-section recovery underwear can be nice because it’s high-waisted and offers light compression. Alternatively, you may want some fold-over underwear that sits under your incision.
  • Compression wrap. You may also bring something like the Belly Bandit for added postpartum belly support. Ask your doctor for guidelines, including when you can start wearing a wrap like this.
  • Loose clothing. You may be more comfortable wearing clothing items, like nightgowns versus pants, that don’t rub against your incision.
  • Special snacks. Beat post-surgery constipation with snacks that contain plenty of fiber, like an apple or instant oatmeal with dried fruit.

Related: The newest form of pain relief during labor? Virtual reality

Your little one will be covered with most supplies for their time in the hospital. In fact, some delivery units may even require — for safety measures — that babies wear hospital-branded onesies until you’re discharged.

Try packing baby’s items in the diaper bag you plan on using once they’re born.

  • Going home outfit. While it’s not the first thing you’ll use, it may be the most exciting. Have some fun picking out what your baby will wear home. Be sure to consider the weather in your planning. You may want to pack a spare in case one outfit gets dirty.
  • Diapers and wipes. If you have specific diapering in mind, bring a pack of what you intend to use with you to the hospital. This includes newborn cloth and a wet bag if you plan to do cloth from the start.
  • Swaddle or receiving blankets. You may want a few of your own swaddles to wrap baby and practice (ask the nurses for pointers!) for those days when you’re on your own. Also check out our swaddling tutorial!
  • Blanket. If it’s winter or otherwise chilly, you can use a thicker blanket to snuggle baby in their car seat on the way home. Alternatively, you may want to outfit your car seat with a bunting of some type.
  • Mittens and booties. If your little one is born with long fingernails, a pair of mittens can help avoid scratches on their face. And depending on the weather, a pair of booties can keep baby’s feet nice and toasty.
  • Formula and bottles. If you’re planning to formula feed from the start, you may or may not be able to bring your own formula and bottles. Call ahead to find out your facility’s policy.
  • Car seat. You’ll need to have your car seat installed before you can leave the hospital. Try putting it in several weeks before you plan to deliver — some seats can be tricky to install.
  • Photo props. If you have those cute little milestone cards or a special family blanket/hat/sentimental item, don’t forget to pack them for your first photos announcing baby to the world.
  • Baby book. Use this to capture your baby’s footprints and jot down a few notes to remember the first few days. You can skip this one if you plan to use a digital baby book, like Qeepsake.

Related: Your vagina after childbirth isn’t as scary as you think

Don’t forget your partner! The hospital likely doesn’t provide much for them — besides an awkward sleeper couch to crash on.

  • Comfortable clothing. Again, you’ll likely be staying at least one night in the hospital. Your partner should bring some pajamas and other lounge clothing that will be cozy and practical for hanging with a newborn.
  • Comfortable shoes. They should also consider bringing slippers that grip or other comfortable shoes and socks.
  • Toiletries. While the basics will be provided to you, they may not be extended to anyone else. Remind your partner to think essentials, like shampoo, face wash, lotion, deodorant, and toothbrush/toothpaste.
  • Medications. Your medications are typically provided if you don’t bring them, but your partner will need to bring anything they’re currently taking.
  • Glasses or contacts. Your partner will need glasses and contacts supplies, like saline, as well.
  • Phone and charger. You may not always be able to find a free moment, but your partner can keep your family and friends updated on your little one’s arrival.
  • Camera. If your phone doesn’t have a great camera on it, have your partner bring one to snap some photos of the big day.
  • Pillow and blanket. Hospital provisions aren’t exactly the warmest. Again, if your partner packs a pillow, put it in a colorful pillowcase so it won’t blend in with hospital ones.
  • Snacks. Labor and delivery can be a long process, and you don’t exactly want your partner slipping away to the cafeteria every 5 minutes. Pack some of your partner’s favorite snacks. Meal replacement bars may be helpful. (And pack some extras for yourself while you’re at it.)
  • Water bottle. You’ll probably take over the water cup provided to you. So, have your partner bring an extra one to stay hydrated and happy.
  • Book or magazine. You’ll be busy, but you partner may want some reading material during the long wait or while you’re sleeping/resting.

In the end, what you pack for your hospital or birth center stay is up to you and your individual needs. Try making a list of the things that you think are essential to your own comfort and wellness.

And don’t sweat it if you forget something or — gasp! — don’t pack your bag in time for labor. (Hey — it happens!) Chances are you’ll have most of what you’ll need — or you can send someone out to get the rest after your baby is born.