Towards the end of your third trimester, just when you’re sure you couldn’t stand to be pregnant another moment, Mother Nature gives you the gift of “nesting.” Many mothers describe an insatiable urge to clean, straighten, and organize their homes in an effort to prepare for their impending bundle of joy. One way to satisfy that nesting urge is to put together your labor bag. But what exactly should you put in there?
When I had my first child, my labor bag was an afterthought. I packed two different outfits, a blanket, a handful of diapers, a teddy bear, a pacifier, wipes, lotion, and a hat for my little one. All I put in there for myself was a change of clothes, some slippers, and a robe. (I vaguely remember throwing a toothbrush in there at the last minute.) I didn’t give any thought to what I might need; I figured the hospital would have all of that covered. While they provided the basics, there are certain items that would have definitely made things go a little bit smoother.
By the time I had my third child, in addition to being another baby wiser, I was a trained professional, having undergone labor doula and childbirth educator training, as well as attending the births of other mothers. I stepped into the birth center feeling much more confident with my bag of tricks in tow, and you know what? That bag was a life saver on more than one occasion. Here’s what was inside:
Tennis balls may seem like an odd item for this list, let alone the first item, but they can be used in a few ways. Your labor support person can use the tennis balls to roll over your lower back and provide counter pressure during contractions. Counter pressure helps to alleviate the back pain that some women experience during labor. While in labor you can also squeeze the tennis balls to divert attention away from the discomfort/pain of contractions. I have also rolled tennis balls around with the arch of my foot in small clockwise and counterclockwise circles, both to provide a comforting foot massage, as well as to offer another focal point.
During labor your mouth can get very dry. Sucking on a lollipop stimulates saliva, and can also give your blood sugar levels a little boost.
Your body is doing a lot of work when you’re laboring, and as with any workout, it is important to stay hydrated. Good old-fashioned water will certainly do the trick, but coconut water provides electrolytes along with hydration.
Two Pairs of Comfy Socks
Simple pleasures make all the difference during labor. Having a pair of comfy socks to slip into can provide momentary relief, especially if you are vacillating between feeling hot and cold.
Candles, Incense, or Diffusion Fragrance Sticks
If there is a scent that will provide you comfort, use it, but make sure you check the policies of your birth location to see which of these options you’ll be able to use. (Diffusion fragrance sticks tend to be a pretty safe option since they do not involve lighting anything or the presence of an open flame.)
Music has the incredible ability to shift our mood. Create two different playlists for your labor: one for when you need to be motivated and another to soothe you. Many labor rooms these days come equipped with docking stations, but in the event that yours doesn’t, you can use your mobile phone, tablet, or computer to play your tunes. Be sure to pack a charger for whichever device you choose.
Slippers, Robe, and Pajamas
Once the baby’s been delivered, all many women want to do is get cleaned up, and then wrap themselves up in something comfy. It’s really nice to be able to put on something of your own, rather than the standard-issue hospital gown.
Pads and Soft Cotton Briefs
There’s no sugar coating this fact: Your vagina will have been through a lot by the time you’ve delivered your baby. The pads and underwear the hospital or birth center will provide will be functional, but they may not be comfortable. Bringing your own will offer another creature comfort you’ll appreciate after delivery.
While I did remember to grab my toothbrush before walking out the door the first time I went into labor, I did not have a washcloth, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, or lotion for myself. All of these things have been in my bag for my subsequent labors, and I suggest them to all the moms I work with.
A Post-Baby Meal
I was downright ravenous once my children were born. The hospital provided meals, but hospital food is about as notorious as plane food, and after the effort I’d expended during labor, I wanted something delicious. So, if your birthing facility allows it, bring something preprepared with you or research local food venues in the area ahead of time, and have a list of what food you would like to eat in order of preference. Laboring and delivering is hard work. You deserve a treat!
Two Weather-Appropriate Outfits for Your Little One
It’s easy to get your heart set on your baby coming home in a particular outfit, but it’s important they’re dressed for the world outside the hospital when they’re ready to go home. Bring two outfits to choose from, one for the season’s average temperature and the other for a more extreme possibility.
An Outfit for Yourself
Think about what you might wear to the gym or to a yoga class, and pack that. You’ll want an outfit that is comfortable above all else.
Diapers and Wipes
Many birth centers and hospitals will provide you with disposable diapers and wipes, but if you are planning to use cloth diapers, you will definitely want to bring those with you. If you would prefer to use your own diapers and wipes, you can let your birth facility know.
Again, many birth centers and hospitals come equipped with these as well, but, in the event that you would like your baby to use a pacifier, you may want to bring your own just in case.
Two-Piece Bathing Suit
This item is birth-location specific. If you are going to deliver in a location that allows you to labor and/or deliver in water, you may want to bring a bathing suit. Many women choose to be naked, but if the idea of doing that makes you uncomfortable, throw a swimsuit in your bag. It’s better to have it and not need it than to feel self-conscious in the middle of your labor.
Just make sure it’s a two piece if you plan to deliver in the water, as the bottom portion will need to be removed at some point to allow the baby free passage.
And there it is: your essential labor bag! No matter what you decide to bring with you, it’s best to have your bag packed no earlier than 34 weeks—unless your care provider has indicated that you will likely have a premature delivery—and no later than 36 weeks. Any time after 37 weeks is considered full-term, so while the baby may hang out until it’s much closer to your due date, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Happy packing!