In about 8 weeks time (give or take a week or so) I am going on a little holiday to Costa Del Coombe. Has anyone heard of it? It's just on Cork Street there, big huge place, supposed to be really child-friendly, and they have a Starbucks! Suppose I better get packing then shouldn't I?
This is one of those questions that I constantly see coming up on forums and blogs. People want to know "what exactly do I pack in my hospital bag?"*. Every hospital is different but in general most midwives or maternity carers will recommend having your hospital bag packed between 32 and 34 weeks gestation. If you are anything like me it seems like a lifetime away when someone mentions that number of weeks. You feel like you will never get there. Well, let me just say that it absolutely flies in and before you know it you're like I am right now thinking HOW am I 32 weeks pregnant already? It's no harm to grab a few bits and pieces as you go rather than leaving it all to one big shopping trip (or twenty) trying to gather all the different things you need to buy. The third trimester can be a trying time and personally a day of shopping completely wipes me out. Some shops may only have the products you are looking for at certain times so I would always recommend breaking it up and ticking things off your list over a couple of weeks rather than a third trimester waddle-style supermarket sweep!
All Maternity hospitals differ a little bit, but at the end of the day it's a pretty universal thing (childbirth) and whether you're going public or private chances are it's only going to happen in one of two different ways (vaginally or by Cesarean). Bearing this in mind, most hospitals will recommend a similar array of 'things' that you should bring with you when that faithful hour comes and you say those words that you never thought you would say - 'grab the hospital bag, it is happening'. The midwife who runs our antenatal classes in The Coombe told the class some really funny stories about how people like to say things like 'I'm 38 weeks and just had my baby, he/she came early' to which she likes to respond 'no, the baby did not arrive early, you just weren't ready'. It's amazing because 38 weeks is actually 'full terms' in the world of pregnancy. At 38 weeks everything is ready to go. The baby has the sucking reflex, the baby has lungs that can allow them to breathe on their own without the placenta, the baby can eat and digest and the anatomy is where it should be in order for the baby to enter the real world. In fact, much of this is the case from 35 weeks. This is reassuring for someone like me who has always had a bit of a fear of pre-term labour. Don't ask me why, but your mind does wander to the worst place sometimes.
That being said, The Coombe hospital provided me with a lovely list of what to bring to the hospital for when it is that time. I thought this was incredibly useful and is just another perk of attending the antenatal classes that your maternity hospital will offer you for free. I would have been lost without the list, and everybody that knows me knows that I LOVE a good list. I'm not going to post the exact list that they gave me, but in a bid to help others, and for anyone else who is just interested, I'm going to go through what they recommend that you should bring in order for you to be prepared for birth, post-birth and for those first few hours/days that your baby experiences this wonderful world.
Firstly, let's talk bags! When you read the list you might be thinking that a huge suitcase is necessary, and I can totally see why. It's a pretty comprehensive list to be honest. But the hospital will not like this, and may even not allow it, so unfortunately I am going to go a bit Michael O' Leary here and say that you should be aiming for a small suitcase, and something that would be acceptable as a Ryanair cabin-sized bag. This is surprisingly do-able and I was pleasantly surprised at just how much you can fit in to a bag that has a decent shape, different compartments and has the function to 'swell' which gives it more flexibility when you are zipping it up. This is the little case that I will be using..
Cute isn't it? It's the bag I always bring on flights with me and it actually fits a huge amount in to it. It has two separate compartments inside and what separates them is a handy netting with a zip where you can store toiletries, cosmetics or the likes of bobbins and hair clips. It also has two flexible pockets for other items like your camera, make-up wipes, chargers etc. I bought this in a market in Birmingham for £20 about two years ago and it was one of my best purchases EVER. And the other added bonus is that it is perfect in terms of being cabin-sized. Many a time I have been asked to put my bag in to the little bag measurer thing before I boarded a Ryanair flight and I was only too delighted to saunter on up there wheeling my case and knowing it was going to fit perfectly, even when it's full to the brim.
What will I need?
OK so provided everything goes to plan and there are no complications most of us are looking at a 1-2 night stay in the maternity hospital. In terms of toiletries you will need - shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, a lufa, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hair-brush and anything extra you might like to use such as face cream, make-up (personally I won't be worrying about make-up), hair bobbins, moisturiser and facial wipes. I bought my shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and tooth paste in travel size as I will only need them for two days. I got mine in Penney's but most pharmacies will stock these items in travel-size also. Here is an idea of what they will look like. They take up way less space than the regular big sizes that you would have at home.
Now on to the fun 'cosmeticey' things. They're not really cosmetics or toiletries but you will end up buying them in the same place as you get the other things so we'll call them cosmetics for argument's sake. I'm talking about breast pads and maternity 'pads' or towels. Men, look away now!
Pregnancy and labour is not a glamorous affair and these two items very much emphasise that point. Maternity pads are absolutely essential due to the blood loss associated with labour and childbirth. In fact, you will probably need these for an average of 6 weeks post-labour and delivery. Bring two packets of these pads! The breast pads are much the same. Another thing that comes with pregnancy and labour is milk production in your breasts. For the first few days you will just produce colostrum which is a a clear non milk-like substance (you may have already seen it during pregnancy, lucky you!) but do not worry because this is full of nutrients and it is exactly what your baby need for the first few days when it's stomach is only about the size of a cherry. It is usually on about day 3 that your breasts start to produce white breast milk. During this process, and indeed during pregnancy and before labour you may need to use breast pads due to the fact that your nipples can leak. Let's save those bras and clothes shall we? These pads have been designed for a reason so grab a packet in your local Boots or pharmacy and you shouldn't have any issues in that department. It's all part of the process! You can also pick up some Lanolin Nipple Cream which soothes sore, dry and chapped nipples (ouch!)
Here are the things that you will need for yourself. You want to make sure you are as comfortable as possible for the days spent in hospital because labour is no walk in the park. You will be tired, uncomfortable and probably quite sore (think stitches) and anything that will make you feel more 'at home' will make a big difference (or so I have heard).
- An old t-shirt or nightdress to wear during delivery. (I actually bought a lovely Maternity nightdress in Penneys (Primark) for €11. It is stretchy, pretty and the straps are designed to assist in breastfeeding allowing you to fold down one panel to just expose your nipple)
- Spare dark-coloured loose-fitting Pyjamas (I bought two pairs in Penneys in big sizes. Nice and loose. Try to get something with a loose top if you plan to breastfeed).
- Socks for delivery and for afterwards (I bought three pairs of fluffy socks in Penneys)
- Slippers and Dressing Gown. (my official list says this but friends have told me to not bother with the dressing gown because the labour ward is extremely warm to keep the babies warm and you will probably be sweating most of the time. Instead, bring a cardigan).
- Large underwear, enough for 3-4 days. (another great buy from Penneys/Primark. They sell Maternity Underwear. Think Bridget Jones. I got two pairs of these and another 3 pairs of regular stretchy BIG underwear. Buy big sizes and remember you want them to come up high close to your belly button in case you have to have a Cesarean. The last thing you need is fabric irritating your scar when you are already in pain. And remember, this is a time to leave your modesty at the door).
- A dark towel (one for each day). I am bringing one. Didn't buy a new one as we have many. I will have my boyfriend bring me in another one if I stay for two nights.
- Flip-Flops. (for the shower)
- Comfortable bras. Support/Nursing bras if you are planning to breastfeed. (I got one in Penneys and one in Aldi (would you believe-during their maternity special) and both have the function to remove one side of the bra discretely when breastfeeding. I also have two Maternity Bras from Mothercare.
- Comfortable clothes to go home in. (the hospital recommend bringing something that fit you at 26 weeks of pregnancy. You may have given birth to the baby but you will still have a 'bump' leaving the hospital. Many women look pregnant for many weeks and months following birth. I haven't decided on my outfit yet but it will likely be some comfortable large black leggings, comfy shoes and some sort of long top or dress that is flowy/loose and in no way tight.
- Miscellaneous. Useful items to remember to pack are things like Vaseline/lip balm, snacks, change for the parking machine, camera, mobile phone charger and any prescribed medication.
For The Baby
It seems like a lot but you might be surprised at how little room this actually takes up. Baby items are tiny and the majority of the case/bag will be full of your own items. One useful tip : did you know that it is medically advised to wash ALL baby clothes, towels and blankets before you use them? Yes, you have to wash all brand new items before they come in to contact with the baby. This is due to the fact that many of these items are manufactured and stored in big factories where any chemicals, dust and debris may have embedded in them and our little babys are very sensitive to all such things. Non-bio detergent is recommended for their sensitive skin.
- 6 long sleeved baby grows (pre-washed)
- 6 Vests (pre-washed)
- 1 pre-washed baby towel
- Cardigan (pre-washed, you get the idea...)
- Packet of newborn-sized nappies
- Packet of cotton wool balls.
- 6 baby bibs
- 2 baby blankets
- Car seat for bringing the baby home (ensure that you know how to safely secure the car seat in your car beforehand. There are guidelines as to how to fix it in place with a seat belt to ensure it is tightly secure and safe for the baby to travel in. The same goes for iso fix bases. One of the staff members in Mothercare showed me exactly how to do it with a car seat model that they have in store. What a great service!)
And there we have it. Doesn't sound too bad does it? Or maybe like me you just got a fright and realised that you actually have quite a bit that you still have to buy. What I will say is, don't panic. At the same time don't be too relaxed about it either because when the time does come and you are having painful contractions and you are full of worry as you decide to leave for the hospital to have your baby the last thing you need to be worrying about is whether or not you have packed the right items. My advice would be to do it before you hit the 34 week mark and have it there ready and waiting. It is one less thing to worry about. Another piece of advice (given to me by my midwife) is to make sure that your boyfriend, husband, significant other, mother or whoever might be your birthing partner is familiar with the bag also. In a perfect world we will all have time to take what we need before we leave for the hospital, but it is important to expect the unexpected and to know that it will be looked after in the event that things go a little bit differently than planned. Plan? Now that is one word that I am learning does not relate to birth or Motherhood, but I'll keep trying anyway!
*Please note that I am not a midwife, maternity practitioner or care-giver. I have never given birth and this will be my first baby. I do not claim to know everything (or anything) about labour or Motherhood but us ladies need to stick together and as this is a question I constantly see posted on the internet I wanted to pass on the advice I have been given and maybe it will help others.