A: Less than you think!
One of the most common things folks ask about when preparing for their birth experience is about what to bring. At long last, here's a comprehensive list!
Eat what makes you feel good
It's a common misconception that pregnant people are not "allowed" to eat in labor. In my experience as a doula and childbirth educator, it's helpful to let folks know that sustaining yourself is critical to your energy level and fortitude.
When your appetite tells you that you're no longer hungry, then scale back to the easier stuff: smoothies, a bit of juice, a spoonful of maple syrup.
In the meantime, try these:
High protein/high carb snacks can pack a punch for energy: granola bars, nut butter on multigrain toast, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, Greek yogurt...
Juicy cut-up fruit
Smoothies for when chewing sounds like way too much work
The hospitals I work in most often stock their cabinets as if there are a bunch of preschoolers about to raid: graham crackers, juice boxes, pudding, applesauce, popsicles. Though there is a time immediately post-birth at 3am when the cafeteria and room service are closed that these snacks are likely the most delicious thing you can imagine, I'd venture a guess to say that if you made a run to your neighborhood Trader Joe's prior to labor, you'd be much better satisfied.
Pack granola bars, nuts, trail mix, crackers. Find out if there's a fridge on the maternity floor, and if so bring fruit or meals labeled with your name and the date of your labor. There's likely a microwave available for patient use as well.
Your support people will appreciate the snack packing too! If yours is an overnight labor (as so many are), your partner is likely to be the rumbling tummy sound you keep hearing. We're not accustomed to being awake in the wee hours, and when we are, we are using energy! Energy depletion calls for peanut butter pretzels (or is that just me?).
Not the postpartum at the hospital, where they feed you regularly, mind you. The looooooong postpartum period where there are like eight three hour days inside of the 24-hour one you're used to. Stock your freezer with soups (store in pint containers), lasagna and casseroles (cut in pieces, then frozen).
In early labor when your doula tells you it's not time to leave for the hospital yet, make some banana bread and store that in the fridge for an easy handheld that doesn't crumble too much on your baby's head while you learn to nurse and feed yourself concurrently.
Make your own electrolyte drink!
1 ½-2 cups water
Juice of ½ lemon
1/8 to 1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tsp honey
Place everything into a jar with a lid and shake well to combine. This recipe fits perfect in a pint mason jar. Store in the fridge up to a week.
Water bottle with a straw.
Studies say that people consume 43% more of their beverage when it's outfitted with a straw (to be fair, that was probably a study by bartenders, but hey). You will be able to access your water from all angles when you use a water bottle with a straw, which is a big benefit when you're cat/cow-ing it. Don't be afraid to throw an electrolyte tablet in there if you'd like! Water and ice are available at all hospitals for refilling your bottle.
Did you get a fuzzy blanket at your last Yankee Swap? Bring that. Otherwise, any $10 throw would be lovely (and disposable, birth's messy). Whether you use it for labor or afterward, it's softer than a hospital-issued spread. Feel free to add an inexpensive Target pillow to that mix if so inclined, likely more for postpartum.
Are your clothes more comfortable than the uniform of a hospital patient? Yes, and likely more stylish! Ok, ok, tbh you won't care about form so much as function. So here's the rub. Your garb needs to be:
Swingy and loose
Open-able in the front for monitoring
Ideally open-able in the back to allow for epidural if you choose one
Not something you care tons about, given it's likely to get marked up with birth goo of all kinds
Something like this, perhaps
Couple this up with a comfy clasping nursing bra- not a sports bra kind, which can be tricky to get out of when your baby's about to land on your chest for immediate skin to skin.
Think of this as packing for the weirdest slumber party ever. Comfy clothes rule the roost, and it's super normal to see laboring people and their support folks in pajama bottoms in the cafeteria, pausing between bites to breathe through a contraction.
Do you enjoy a little mood music? Now's the time to re-up your Spotify subscription and create yourself a few soundtracks. It's likely that you'll be drawn more to music in your early labor than in active labor or transition- though you may want something meaningful for the birth itself.
PS, Beyoncé has a suggestion for your playlist
Your birth support plan is good to bring in hard copy. Providers are very likely to read it more thoroughly than if it's simply in your chart. Highlight preferences that might differ from the norm, like "I'm scared of needles, please wait until I can use nitrous oxide for placement of IV," or "no eye ointment needed for my baby," or "we don't know the gender of my baby, ____ will announce it in a special way."
There are a million resources for writing birth plans, if you're overwhelmed or just want a consult on how to write one- email me!
Mineral oil for perineal support during pushing. Most providers are willing to use this, though many hospitals don't stock it in the delivery cart. It's not evidence based to prevent tears, but there's something about the psychology of a more slippery path that seems to make a difference for both the birthing person and the person catching the baby. List this on your birth support plan, along with "please take all applicable measures to protect my perineum: mineral oil, warm compress, perineal support. Limit perineal 'massage,' and reserve episiotomy as only in true necessity"
Are you hormonal like every other pregnant person who's travelled this labor lane? Probably, and that has you enduring hot flashes like nobody's business. Pack a battery powered fan to spot cool you.
Glasses and contact stuff
Lip balm, So. Much. Breathing
Tums, if you normally deal with heartburn
Chargers for all the electronic devices (tablets, phones, etc)
Your Spinning Babies handout
Leave in the car for a partner/support to grab once in the postpartum area:
Car seat+cover if applicable
Postpartum bag: going home outfit, overnight needs for your own comfort
Breast pump, if you already have one. Hospital-based lactation consultants can assist you with flange sizing, to ensure you're getting the most out of your pump
What you don't need
Many changes of clothes. Mostly you will be alternating rest and feeding and holding your baby, and it's a high point in the day if you find a moment to change!
Your own absorbent stuff. Well, you do- but at home. At the hospital, use the copious amounts of pads and disposable undies they provide. They'll send you home with a bunch of them too, though I am a big fan of a less bleached version of said pads
Your medications. These are on all the lists, but you're actually not going to be permitted to take those- they call for each prescription from the in-house pharmacy, so the amounts/timing can be tracked in your chart using bar codes. You should bring them if you can't take a generic form of your prescription, or if you are unsure of your dosages
Your own birth ball. Most hospitals have these on hand in various shapes and sizes, regularly sanitized and easily accessible
Any negative nay-sayers. Your preferences belong to you! Don't pack any opinions or stories that don't support your vision for how you hope your story goes