By Nicole Philips-Kemenanabo
Pregnancy, as many have come to learn, is one of the most arduous, yet fascinating and exhilarating events in the life of a woman. So compelling is this journey that even the non-pregnant partners of these women, as well as their loving friends and family, are unavoidably roped in for the monumental ride.
Anyone who has ever been pregnant or been a part of a woman’s life during this experience, possesses the unequivocal awareness that the final month of this undertaking is, without a single doubt, the most anxiety-inducing, as the thoughts and actions of those directly involved are often consumed by planning and preparation, uncertainty, and eagerness to meet the little one.
While ensuring that the nursery is in order — the smell of the new paint or the glue from a carefully selected wallpaper cleared out weeks before, the cot assembled, the furniture positioned in practical locations that still manage to make for a most aesthetically pleasing sight — and that clothing items as well as other essential accessories for mother and baby have been purchased and neatly organised in drawers, an important preparation that must not be neglected, perhaps even done before the final month, is the packing of the hospital bag.
The hospital bag is the bag, box, or suitcase which accompanies the mother, along with her birth partner(s), for the duration of her stay at the hospital. When it comes to this bag, one can never be over-prepared, as there are instances where planned vaginal deliveries which warrant a 24 – 48 hour hospital stay, have resulted in unexpected complications or been replaced by emergency C-Sections, that necessitate a longer 3 – 4 days stay. Thus, it is important that mother, baby and birth partner(s), have everything they require and more, during this time.
To ease this aspect of preparation, below is a compiled list of essential items that must be included in the hospital bag.
Cell phone and Charger
This is a requirement for mum and birth partner(s). Cell phones these days come equipped with several apps which can be a means for entertainment. From Netflix to Youtube, to bible apps, podcasts and gaming apps, an expectant mother and her birthing partner will need their cell phones to while away time as they await the birth of the little one, and even afterwards, during the period of the mother’s recovery. And, of course, one cannot forget to pack a charger, and, if possible, a multi-plug socket with them, in the event that more than one electronic device has accompanied them on the journey to the hospital.
Although hospitals may provide them, one simply cannot neglect to pack in their hospital bag(s) their toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and sponge. It is also important to come prepared with deodorant and lotion, lip balm and makeup (if you intend to look extra cute for those first pictures with your baby), hair brush or comb (depending on your hairstyle), hair cream and hair ties (perhaps even your bonnet), face wipes (if you do not wish to shower right away), and bath towels.
Sanitary Pads or Adult Diapers
Irrespective of the delivery type, vaginal bleeding and discharge are to be expected after birth. Lochia, as it is called medically, is your body’s way of expelling from the uterus, the excess blood and tissue which aided the growth of the baby. Thus, it is important that sanitary pads and adult diapers are included in the hospital bag. The hospital may provide these, but it is always best to bring yours along, especially if you have a preferred brand.
Comfortable clothes for mums ought to include 2 to 3 loose-fitting, sleeveless or short-sleeved nightgowns, so that blood pressure can be checked without difficulty and drips can be administered, if required. The nightgowns should have front openings to allow for skin to skin contact with baby as well as ease with breastfeeding. A bathrobe, a pair of slippers and perhaps two pairs of socks; 2 to 3 comfortable outfits, if visitors are to be expected (loose fitting dresses are best, especially if you have had a C-Section), and a pair of comfortable flat shoes. Postpartum underwear and nursing bras also cannot be forgotten.
Snacks and Drinks
Though mothers may not be allowed certain foods right after a cesarean delivery, mint sweets and gums are welcome to aid the passing of gas. Vaginal deliveries, on the other hand, do not come with such restrictions. Besides, hunger should be expected after long hours of labour, and hospital food simply cannot be relied upon. Thus, a variety of snacks are welcome for both mother and birth partner. Drinks, especially water, are of the utmost importance during this time, and should be included in the hospital bag.
Nursing Pillow and Nipple Cream
Pillows designed for the purpose of nursing will provide essential support for mother and baby, instead of the unusually uncomfortable pillows hospitals provide. And nipple creams may help soothe the skin around sensitive nipples as nursing may lead to sores and itchiness.
Breast Pump and Breast Pads
Breast pumps may be used to collect colostrum (first stage of breast milk), especially in situations where mother and baby are not together immediately after birth. It may also take longer for your milk to come in, if you have been separated from your baby for several hours. During this time, a breast pump will certainly come in handy as it helps with the extra stimulation required for milk production. Breast pumps are also tremendously helpful in engorgement relief during those early days of milk production.
Breast pads, on the other hand, are necessary for milk absorption when your milk finally comes in, as you are expected to experience moments of leaking which may cause you discomfort at night or embarrassing milk stains and patches during the day.
Diapers and Wipes
A pack of diapers in your preferred brand, and perhaps two packs of un-perfumed wipes must be included in the hospital back for your baby. Some hospitals may offer these items, but it is advisable to bring your along, in the event that the products offered are not of the quality that you desire.
Clothing items for baby may include: hats, mittens, booties, onesies, as well as little sleeveless bodysuits which may be worn within the onesies for extra warmth. Because mothers and partners may wish to take photographs of the little one, clothing items may be stylish and fashionable, and an extra matching set may be included as the going-home outfit.
Blankets and swaddle cloths are essential for extra warmth, in the event that the temperature within and beyond the recovery room is chilly. Furthermore, some mothers might prefer to include their own receiving blankets rather than those offered by the hospital.
Infant Car seat
It is imperative that the infant car seat is properly installed in your personal car or taxi before leaving the hospital. For personal vehicles, it is also advisable to put it in weeks beforehand, so that it is promptly checked off your to-do list.
Bottles and Sterilising Unit
Bottles are essential because one can never be certain of the time when their milk might come in, and in the event that milk production delays, infant formula will be fed to the newborn via bottles. Bottles are also necessary for mothers who intend to exclusively formula feed, combination feed, or pump and bottle feed from the beginning.
Sterilising units for baby bottles, pacifiers and other baby equipment are essential for the first 6 months as they protect the newborn from bacteria and other harmful germs during the period when the baby’s immune system has yet to mature.
This is required for mothers who do not intend to nurse, mothers who wish to practice combination feeding and mothers whose milk has yet to come in. Though you might decide to breastfeed for the recommended six months and beyond, it is advisable to pack in your hospital bag a preferred brand of infant formula, just in case!
FOR BIRTH PARTNER(S):
Along with snacks and drinks, cellphone, laptop and charger, toiletries and comfortable clothes, the birthing partner ought to pack in their hospital bag, a comfortable pillow and blanket, as hospital pillows are not always of the best quality and their blankets, if provided, may be disturbingly thin.
The moment your hospital bag is organised and packed, you are guaranteed to be overcome with a feeling of relief and satisfaction, a sense that a burden has been lifted.
Nicole Philips-Kemenanabo is a writer, poet, lawyer and an artist located in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2020, she was amongst the top 20 finalist in the National Art Competition hosted by UNESCO under the theme of “Sheroes.” You can find some of her work on Instagram @NicolePhilipsArt