I might be a big birth nerd in that what happens inside a hospital, most especially in the maternity unit, fascinates me. I chose the medical route of doctors & a hospital birth for my first baby, and while I would definitely give birth in a hospital again, I will likely seek out midwifery care if there’s a baby 2.0 sometime in the future. But that’s a post for another time! This is all about the hospital stay, and I’m coming at it from my recent stint in labor + my PRN status as a hospital employee who gives maternity center tours on two area medical campuses. Obviously all hospitals are different, and I highly encourage you to seek out a virtual tour from your hospital or birth center if in-person tours aren’t currently an option.
BRING SNACKS. You’ll need to keep your energy up during labor, you’ll need to replenish your energy stores after giving birth, and your birthing partner will need to eat during their stay, too. Yes, hospitals have cafeterias and food delivery options and some have nourishment rooms with basic food supplies for birthing patients, but you will not regret bringing some of your own favorites. We also packed Powerade Zero because many doctors won’t let you consume anything besides clear liquids once you’re admitted. Ask if your hospital has a mini fridge in the room or a communal fridge so you can bring cold stuff, too!
Get vocal! I’m not talking about labor sounds– though some truly… interesting? primal sounds will escape your throat before that kid comes out– I’m saying use your voice to advocate for yourself and your baby about your hospital stay. ASK QUESTIONS! If you don’t get admitted knowing every single pain management option available to you like I did because I’m a nightmare know-it-all, ask. If you know there’s certain things you definitely want– delayed cord clamping, a certain person to cut the umbilical cord, no one in the room to speak because you want your voice to be the first thing baby hears– you gotta speak up. The hospital staff won’t judge you, they should let you know what’s allowed and what’s not (and why! Not just because they don’t feel like it.) They see hundreds of birthing patients a year; it’s their job to make this experience as safe and positive for you as possible.
Don’t be a hero. You’ll have the option of having baby sleep in the nursery at night (or have them hang out in the nursery any time you need a break.) A lot of first time moms think they’re a monster person if they take the nurses up on this offer, but don’t be a hero, Natalie. Maternity center nurses have chosen their profession because they really like babies– caring for babies in the nursery is kind of their thing. You’ll be leaving baby with the most highly qualified people available, so take them up on it, especially at night when you need sleep. They’ll still bring baby in when it’s time to eat, they should ask you in advance if it’s ok to give baby a pacifier in the nursery, they’ll bring your baby back the second you want them with you. You will be laying in bed, not sleeping, on your first night home with baby thinking, “Where are my angel nurses with their magical nursery and how can I get them to move in with me??”
Visitors? Ha. This is one area in which COVID has a silver lining. Many of our patients were upset at the beginning of the pandemic that no outside visitors were allowed, but have since said, “Best thing ever!” Grieving the moment your parents get to come meet their new grandchild in the hospital is completely valid, and a doctor I talked to said the only thing he misses is seeing a very proud big brother or sister holding their new baby sibling for the first time. But! Once that passes, not having visitors is something I would choose for any subsequent births, even after hospital visitor restrictions are lifted. Physically, so many things are still gushing out of your body even after the baby has exited. You might be trying to get the hang of breastfeeding, and the easiest option is to just kind of have your boobs out 24/7. You likely haven’t gotten a lot of sleep so your face looks like it got ran over with a truck. Hormonally, so much is happening– am I on Cloud 9? Am I not bonding with my baby yet like everyone said I would? How is my partner doing? Add in the amount of interruptions– nurses taking your vitals, pediatricians coming in to check on baby, hospital techs coming in to give them their first bath, lactation consultants popping in, food service employees dropping off and picking up trays– it’s a lot. As sad as my mother was that she had to wait until we were home to come meet her grandson, I can’t imagine when she would have ever dropped by the hospital that wouldn’t have added on a ton more stress to an already completely foreign situation.
Practice the car seat in advance. Legally, you can’t leave our hospital without a car seat, and the nurses aren’t allowed to make adjustments to it or baby. Not only does the base need to be properly installed in your vehicle, I highly recommend taking the time to figure out how the car seat operates before you have a very alive newborn to put in it. We did not do this, and watching my husband and I try to figure out how to get the poor kid strapped in had to be like watching a sad clown car on fire. We were stressed, baby got stressed, we couldn’t figure out the damn straps, and the nurse had to just stand nearby like a cheerleader and lightly suggest, “I think if you push that button, you can get more slack on the straps…” Practice with a teddy bear, borrow a neighbor kid, whatever you need to do to figure out what buckle goes where and which buttons make which handles move.
Take everything not nailed down. Giant pads? Peri bottle? Diapers? Wipes? Formula samples? Water bottles? TAKE ‘EM HOME. They’re yours now.
To bring: phone charger with an extra long cord, Chapstick because it’s dry AF in a hospital, whatever will make you feel slightly more human (fave shampoo? mascara? floss?) baby book if you want a set of baby’s footprints put right on the page, hair ties, a going home outfit that will make you feel a little bit less garbage-y before you go home and spend many weeks or months barely getting dressed, something for baby to wear home. There’s only about a thousand lists + YouTube videos on what to pack, but err on the side of keeping it light. Hopefully you and baby will be healthy, and you’ll only be spending 2-3 nights there.