When it comes to packing your hospital bag, it can be hard to second-guess what you’ll really need and what’s likely to stay unused.
Our 2021 baby survey* reveals the top items parents found invaluable to help them feel prepared for their hospital birth. Here’s what they are so you can be sure to pack them, too.
Download our printable hospital bag checklist to ensure you have everything you need – and tick it off as you go along
1. Newborn nappies
If there’s one thing your baby will need from the outset it’s nappies. However, don’t expect the hospital where you’re giving birth to be generous on the nappy front.
Unless they’re in special care, you’re likely to be given one or two to set you on your way, which is way fewer than you’re likely to need.
In our survey, 83% of parents told us that they had put nappies in their hospital bag, making them the most commonly packed item.
2. Toiletries for you
From lip balm to stop your lips getting dry from using gas and air, to nipple cream for those early breastfeeding endeavours, make sure you pack a wash bag.
You may hope to only be in hospital for a day, but if things don’t go according to plan you could end up staying in for longer.
Pack the usuals – toothbrush, toothpaste, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner and contact lens solutions and containers if needed.
Toiletries were high up the list of ‘must-haves’ for respondents in our survey, with 82% packing them in their hospital bags.
3. Mobile phone and charger
A smartphone is a go-to piece of tech for any expectant parents, enabling not only phone calls, texts and updates to social media, but also functioning as a way of listening to birth playlists and hypnobirthing sessions during labour.
In our survey, 81% of people said they took a mobile phone and charger with them in their hospital bag, but you might also want to take a portable power bank charger in case finding a plug socket is tricky.
Don’t forget headphones, too – essential if you’re listening to music or hypnobirthing tracks when you’re on a labour ward with other mums-to-be.
4. Change of clothes to go home in
Choose these in advance rather than asking someone to bring them to hospital once you’re there.
Not only will you be able to wear what you want but you’ll also be prepared if all’s well and you get discharged the same day you give birth.
Choose a loose-fitting maternity outfit to accommodate your baby belly (which won’t go down right away), as well as a top that’s front-opening or has easy access if you’re planning to breastfeed.
5. Baby sleep suits/bodysuits
As well as getting through a sizeable pile of nappies, newborns can also work their way through a fair few changes of clothing in a day.
Most of our respondents were well prepared, with 81% saying they had popped some in their hospital bag.
Calculate for around five or six sleepsuits or bodysuits per day so that you’re prepared for those moments when, in typical newborn fashion, they soil themselves from head to toe and need a complete change of clothes.
6. Maternity sanitary pads
Whether you deliver vaginally or by C-section, post-birth bleeding (lochia) will start soon after your baby is born.
Take at least two packs of maternity sanitary pads in your bag as you may need to change your pad every couple of hours in the first few days after delivery. In our survey, 80% of respondents said they’d packed some.
Maternity pads differ from sanitary towels because they are longer, softer and more absorbent, as well as tending to be free from plastic coatings that may cause irritation, especially if you’ve had stitches. Tampons aren’t recommended until after your six-week post-natal check-up.
Many new mums find disposable paper knickers useful, too, especially in the first few days after birth when this bleeding is at its heaviest.
7. Clothing accessories for your baby
In our research, 74% of respondents told us they’d taken hats, mittens or socks in their hospital bag for their baby and the same percentage also took a shawl or blanket for their little one.
Layers are a good idea as hospital maternity units can be quite warm, but equally it’s good to be prepared in case you feel your baby is getting chilly, or for when you head outside when leaving.
What is the role of a birth partner? Read our guide to find out
8. Cotton wool or baby wipes
The delicate nature of newborn skin means cleaning your little one’s bottom during a nappy change is best done with water and cotton wool or a cloth.
If you plan on using baby wipes, make sure they’re labelled as suitable for newborns – the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) says that only certain wipes have been tested in robust clinical trials and found to be safe to use from birth.
Wipes used from birth should be fragrance-free, alcohol-free and pH balanced so they’re extra gentle on newborn skin.
Whether you choose to wear it in labour, give birth in it or wear it after your baby has arrived, a nightgown is a handy item of clothing to pack in your bag (70% of our respondents thought so, too).
Choose an old one (or an old T-shirt) if you want to give birth in it as it’s likely to go through a lot. After the birth, a front-opening option is a good idea if you’re hoping to breastfeed.
A lightweight cotton dressing gown, plus slippers (or flip-flops) and socks (your feet may get cold during labour) are also worth taking.
10. Your maternity medical notes
At your first booking-in appointment you’ll get your ‘handheld record’ – a set of maternity records which you keep with you throughout your pregnancy and birth.
Midwives and doctors make a note of all maternity care provided, including scan results and tests, so it’s vital you have these with you for the team attending your birth.
If you’re having a home birth but with NHS care, the midwife in attendance will take your records and give them to the local hospital. In the case of a private maternity care, your care provider will keep a copy of your notes.
Many hospitals also use electronic systems for making notes, including during labour, and these may be printed out and added to your handheld record. After the birth and when you’ve been discharged, the bundle of notes will be kept by the hospital.
11. Breast pads
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, take breast pads (also known as maternity breast pads or nursing pads).
Post-birth, it’s common for your breasts to leak milk inbetween feeds, as well as if you hear your baby crying or it’s close to feeding time. The ‘let-down reflex’ in both breasts means that when your baby is on one breast the other is likely to leak, too.
You can choose either reusable or disposable pads. The important thing is to keep the area as dry as possible in order to avoid irritation or infections.
In our survey, 67% of respondents said they had put breast pads in their hospital bag. Don’t forget a couple of nursing bras, too.
12. Towels for you and your baby
A post-birth shower could be exactly what you need to freshen up, however, if you’re having your baby in an NHS hospital, you can’t always guarantee you’ll be given a towel to use.
A couple of flannels might be useful, too, for cooling you down during labour or bathing after the birth.
13. Birth plan
Your birth plan is a record of what you’d like to happen during your labour, birth and afterwards.
It gives the team the chance to understand what your priorities and feelings are, for example in the event that you need an induction or other form of intervention during labour. However, it’s not set in stone and you’re free to change your mind. It may also be that circumstances change and you’ll need to be flexible.
There may be space in your maternity notes for your birth plan, but it’s good to keep a copy with you, too.
14. Hair clips or hair bands
Labour and birth can not only be lengthy, but they can also be hot.
Having clips or hairbands to pin your hair back and keep it off your face during labour and birth could help to make you more comfortable.
15. Water bottle with sports cap
Choose a reusable water bottle with a sports lid. This will make it easier to sip from the bottle when you’re lying down during labour and after the birth.
The RCM says that women who are unlikely to need the care of a doctor during labour can eat and drink as they wish.
Snack ideas that can work include cereal bars, boiled sweets/dextrose tablets, dried fruit, sandwiches, vegetable sticks, crackers and rice cakes.
If you’re having a general or local anaesthetic (such as a C-section), talk to your medical team about what you can eat and when.
17. Ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask
If you’re staying overnight in a maternity ward, these items could help you get a better night’s sleep.
Hospital wards can be bright and noisy, with other patients, visitors, staff and, most importantly, other people’s newborns not realising how loud they’re being. One respondent in our survey said they’d also packed their own pillow.
18. Face coverings
Current joint UK guidance from the RCM and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says that women shouldn’t be asked to wear a face covering of any kind during natural labour or during C-sections because of the risk of harm and complications.
If you’re in a waiting area, you can choose to wear a face covering, but you don’t have to. And once they’ve moved from triage or a waiting area to a private room (for example, in established labour), you should be discouraged from wearing one.
Women in labour with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 can be reasonably asked to wear a face covering for short periods of time when they’re moving from one area to another, such as going from the labour room to theatre, or from triage to the antenatal room.
When it comes to birth partners and face coverings, the guidance says: ‘When requested, birth partners should wear a face covering at all times, including when in a private room, to minimise transmission to and from healthcare workers.’
RCM chief executive, Gill Walton, told us: ‘The ‘when requested’ part is really down to each individual trust or hospital as space in some trusts’ birthing rooms is smaller, so there could be an increased risk of infection for both maternity staff and partners.’
The guidance also recommends lateral flow testing where possible for women and their partners to help alleviate infection risks, ahead of scan appointments, fetal medicine appointments and at birth.
*Which? baby survey of 2,021 parents of children aged up to five years old, carried out in February 2021.