One question every mom faces is what to pack in the hospital bag for her birth. On my fourth-time around now, I can now consider myself fairly experienced at prepping for a hospital birth. Over the years, I’ve streamlined what I take along to the hospital and also made a few adjustments based on the type of birth I tend to have (quick, hard, unmedicated). So what to take along to the hospital, and perhaps more importantly, what should be left behind? Here are my favorites… and the good news is that almost all of the items would be right at home in your diaper bag AFTER baby’s birth, too!

photo of essential hospital birth bag items

A few of my hospital birth bag essentials… some are fairly typical and some may be new to you! Most also find their way into my diaper bag after birth, too. (iPhone photo)


I’m skipping a few of the obvious items (toothbrush, clothes for mama, nursing bra–nobody needs to see my “unmentionables” but here are some essentials I can’t live without:

  • what to pack for baby: Most hospitals provide a little t-shirt and the ubiquitous pink and blue striped blanket for swaddling. For clothes *in* the hospital, I prefer the newborn gowns with an open bottom, which makes access for heel pokes and diaper changes easy. For the ride home, I like something easy to wear in the carseat (and easy to put on), like this zippered sleeper. I prefer zippers to snaps. A NICU nurse friend of mine pointed out that for NICU babies where access for monitors and leads is necessary, snaps are needed, but fortunately we haven’t faced that with any of our kids.
  • bath wash for baby, and a few sample-sized toiletries for mom: hospitals usually have Johnson & Johnson baby wash, and I just prefer to use something tailored for sensitive skin. My favorite bath wash for my kids is California Baby Super Sensitive body wash. Target has some gift sets with sample sizes that make lovely baby shower gifts for a new mom. The 2-oz. bottle pictured above is perfect to take along to the hospital. I also scrounge up a couple sample-sized toiletry items of my favorites so that I can feel refreshed after birth. Nobody wants to feel grungy and gross. And yes, I know some people prefer not to wash baby for several days after birth, but after my second child was born and was the cheesiest, most vernix-y child you’ve ever seen, I’ve learned sometimes a bath is just a must!
  • lip balm: the hard work of labor can dry out lips. I am a lip balm snob, and EcoLips is my absolute favorite. Usually available in the “natural foods” section of grocery stores, or at places like Whole Foods.
  • phone chargers and spare camera battery: easy to forget in the heat of running out the door, but very inconvenient not to have
  • essential oils: this time around I’m taking along a few essential oils. Test them beforehand and make sure you have no smell aversion to them, as smells that are only slightly annoying when not in labor can become REALLY annoying when laboring. For me, I’m taking along citrus bliss and spearmint (a lovely invigorating mix), deep blue (designed to ease muscle tension and pain), and some peppermint beadlets (I am really sensitive to funky breath tastes/smells when laboring). I have been fortunate not to have really prolonged labors in the past, so I’m able to take a fairly minimal oil selection. This isn’t a must-have, but is a definite “nice to have.”
  • Bible and birth affirmations/verses: I love my small ESV journaling Bible for portability and church, and it’s coming along with me to the hospital. This time around I also copied some of my favorite verses and inspiring quotes onto some Project Life cards and hole-punched them for quick reference during labor if I need a boost.
  • swaddle blanket: hospitals will provide the usual pink & blue striped blanket, but I also like to take along a white swaddle blanket (the bamboo Aden & Anais brand is ultra-soft and big enough to make swaddling easy). The white blanket also acts as a beautiful natural reflector for photos of baby in the hospital, and of course as a photographer I have to consider these things 😉
  • ring sling: I’m a babywearing addict, even in the hospital. I find ring slings my favorite choice for newborns, so I’m taking along a Sakura Bloom ring sling.
  • wet bag: the orange bag above is a “wet bag,” a bag designed to hold wet items and prevent leakage. These have become indispensable for any trip I take, and the hospital is no exception. I fully expect to have some dirty baby clothes to pack up, clothes from me from laboring, and more, and the wet bag is an awesome way to segregate your dirties. And really, every mom needs one… great for swimming, potty accidents, and more.

Now, what to leave behind?  I am basing these recommendations on my own experiences at two different local hospitals. Independent birth centers and hospitals out of the US may provide different items, so you may want to ask your care provider ahead of time. But here are items I have found are best left at home.

  • diapers (yes, cloth AND disposable): the hospital will provide diapers. I love using cloth, but really, you are best leaving the cloth at home. You will likely only be at the hospital 1-3 days, and it is just one less thing to keep track of… and nurses are often NOT used to cloth diapers and that can be an issue, too. I’ve found it best just to leave the cloth at home, where I know it’s safe and no chance of being mixed in with other laundry.
  • tons of baby clothes: again, you likely won’t be there long (and if you are, someone can bring more clothing). Most of the time baby is swaddled and close to you. This is not the time for a fashion show. Minimize the luggage and leave lots of outfits at home. Focus on a couple things that are easy to dress baby in.
  • birth balls: check ahead of time, but most hospitals (at least in the Seattle area) do provide access to the big exercise balls for use in labor.
  • pre-pregnancy jeans: seriously, just don’t. You don’t need that kind of pressure (or possible “downer”). Wear comfy clothes home: a maxi skirt or maternity yoga pants are a good choice.

What are some other items that you found were must-haves during your hospital stay? Leave a comment below to let me know, and let’s chat!