Going to the hospital to have a baby seems pretty straightforward right? But there’s some learning you can do before you arrive if you want to take advantage of everything you can while you’re there. Here’s some hospital 411 and concrete tips to help you get the most out of your time in the maternity ward.
Tour The Hospital
At some point in your third trimester, schedule a tour of the hospital where you plan to deliver if it’s not already part of your childbirth class. You’ll get to see the birthing and recovery rooms and ask any questions you might have. It’s also really good to know exactly where to go (and park) when the time comes. Many hospitals will even send you home from the tour with a pre-registration form that you can fill out and keep in your hospital bag (or submit online) so you’re not checking little boxes and trying to find your damn insurance group number between contractions. My hospital also sent us with a visitor’s note card so I could list the people who were welcome to visit for both delivery and recovery.
Speaking of visitors, remember that you’re the patient and therefore the BOSS, and it is completely up to you to decide who does or doesn’t get in. Oh, your mom is insisting on being in the delivery room? Good thing it’s not up to her. In fact, you don’t even have to tell anyone when you go into labor. I didn’t and it was wonderful and very low-stress (save for the whole four hours of pushing and emergency C-section part). Learn the standard hospital policy and visiting hours, but remember, you get to decide who visits and for how long. And you shouldn’t have to play gatekeeper, either. Since you did all the hard work of carrying and delivering the baby, the least your partner can do is play bad cop with friends and family.
What to Pack
If you’ve toured the maternity ward, you’re officially in “shiz is getting real” zone, and this means it’s time to pack your hospital bag. Luckily, there are an endless blog posts and Pinterest boards dedicated to this very topic. The basics should include a robe, slippers, dry shampoo, socks, face wipes, lip balm, moisturizer, something to keep your hair out of your face, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. You’ll also want leggings and a loose, comfortable shirt that opens in front for the trip home. And go ahead and pack some roomy shoes, because your feet may be too swollen for your regular ones when you leave. You’ll also want to make sure you have phone chargers, snacks, a nursing pillow, and some way to play music during labor. You won’t actually need too much for the baby since the hospital supplies most of that, but bring an adorable yet seasonally-appropriate going-home outfit. And don’t forget the car seat!
All of that said, no matter how much you plan, you’ll probably still discover you need something else once you’re stuck at the hospital. I ended up asking my dad to bring me a fan because we had to keep the room around 72ºF for the baby, and I felt so damn warm in the days after my c-section. So pack as well as you can, and if it’s possible, have a friend or family member on call to bring you anything you might need after you arrive.
Take Advantage of the Amenities
Many hospitals have cool perks for new moms, but for some reason, they’re not always made public, and you tend to learn about them from friends. For example, you can get amazing chocolate chip cookies at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles — as long as you know they’re available at 4pm every day and you have a nurse ready and willing to grab them for you. The University of Kansas Medical Center, where I delivered, gifts new parents a room service-style dinner. But many of my mom friends who went there never got it. Not sure what your hospital offers new moms? Ask during your tour of the maternity ward or in a local mom group or forum.
Be Nice to the Nurses
This one is sort of a given, even though no one really expects you to be super nice after you’ve squeezed a human out of your vagina or had your abdomen sliced open. Still, the nurses in the maternity ward are bada$$es and will be your best friends by the end of your stay. Mother-in-law overstaying her welcome? Give the nurse your agreed-upon hand signal and visiting hours will magically end early. Want some extra pain meds or pillows? Ask a nurse! Hell, I was worried my boobs weren’t working and a night nurse (with my permission) squeezed one in just the right way to show me there was plenty of colostrum in there for my son.
Call on the Lactation Consultants
Speaking of boobs, contrary to what we’ve all been led to believe, breastfeeding is actually something you and your baby need to learn – and it’s not always easy. Luckily, most hospitals have lactation consultants on staff, so even if you think you’ve got the whole nursing thing down, it’s worth requesting a visit from the LC to check baby’s latch and offer some alternative feeding positions so you don’t destroy your back over the next year or so. (And if you’re not planning to breastfeed, be sure to add your feeding supplies to your hospital bag.)
Send the Baby to the Nursery for Some Sleep (for you)
Remember the first episode of This is Us, when all three of the Pearson triplets were just chilling in their bassinets in the hospital nursery while family looked on through a glass wall? Well, much like lighting up a cigarette in the maternity ward (yep, the cop Jack was talking to totally did that!), the days of sending a full-term, healthy baby to the hospital nursery for hours on end are long gone. Most likely, your baby will “room in” with you for the duration of your stay. This is generally seen as a good thing, since keeping your newborn within arm’s reach can encourage both bonding and breastfeeding. But one thing it won’t help is your own sleep. While you may very well get shot down (hi, I did!) you might as well ask the nurses if they’ll take the baby to the nursery for an hour or two so you can get a little shuteye before you head home.
What to Pack on the Way Out (aka Your Goodie Bag)
You probably put a lot of thought into what to take to the hospital, but you also need to consider what you’ll take from the hospital. I was sent home with a bag full of XL maxi pads, a peri bottle to use in place of toilet paper (it squirts water), and a random assortment of other industrial grade feminine hygiene products. But that didn’t stop me from also stuffing my tote with one zillion diapers, wipes, a nasal aspirator, receiving blankets, and whatever else wasn’t nailed down in my room — including a few of those adorable newborn kimono-style shirts. I also asked my favorite nurse to snag me a some extra packages of mesh panties, which I lived in for the first weeks at home. And maybe it’s because we were discharged on on Christmas Day, but since my nipples were already on fire, she also gave me some reusable cooling gel pads I could keep in the fridge, as well as a nice velcro support band to wear over my C-section scar. My favorite souvenir was the giant hospital water jug with a handle and a straw that my husband had to refill for me about 70 times a day once we were home (and if I could have taken the hospital’s crushed ice machine, I would have).
And hey, if you follow even half of this advice, you’re way ahead of most first-time moms. Just make sure you at least get some good free shiz because, sure, your baby’s the main gift, but who doesn’t love some nice icing on the cake?