This morning, a friend posted on my facebook page wall:
“Do you have a full list of things you recommend to bring for people who choose to have a hospital birth? I would love to pass a list on to my sister and friends who are pregnant, if you have one.”
I told her I didn’t have one, but she had given me an idea for a great blogpost. I should preface this by saying that I didn’t bring any of these things to my hospital births. But if I could go back in time, I would! Ten years of studying childbirth have taught me a lot!
Aside from the usual change of clothes, toiletries, and baby gear, here’s what I’d recommend you pack in your bag to ease your hospital birth and postpartum experience.
And some way to listen to it. Studies suggest that music is a wonderful non-invasive way to reduce stress and anxiety in labor. If you bring music you can sing with, the benefits are even more pronounced. Singing raises oxytocin and melatonin levels, both of which help labor to progress. Singing reduces stress hormone levels, lowers blood pressure, and enhances the release of endorphins–natural pain-killers. You can read more about the benefits of laboring with music and some suggestions for song choices HERE and HERE.
2) Comfy labor attire
I gave birth to my first two babies in hospitals and wore the standard hospital gowns, but I wish now that I had just brought my own comfy clothes for those births. For my third birth I wore a sports bra, tanktop, and stretchy skirt until I got into the tub. I think there’s something comforting about wearing clothes that are chosen by you and familiar to you. Pretty Pushers makes gowns specifically designed for labor and (as you might guess) much less frumpy than traditional hospital gowns. Bring whatever you feel most comfortable wearing for labor. Slippers may come in handy if you want to spend time walking.
3) Amber-lens eyeglasses
Now this is one you have probably never heard before. Until a few days ago, it was something I’d never considered either. Through my research, I’ve learned that melatonin synergizes with oxytocin to enhance labor contractions. This is why most women go into labor at night (when melatonin levels are high), and why laboring women often prefer darkness and/or keep their eyes closed during the most intense contractions. One way to keep melatonin levels high is to filter the particular wavelength of light that suppresses melatonin–blue light. Amber-lens eyeglasses will do this. Some women find that transition to the hospital disruptive to their labor rhythm, but keeping melatonin levels high with blue-light filtering lenses could help. You can read more about blue-light and melatonin in my blogpost HERE. Worth a shot, right? You can find amber-lens glasses for less than $2 on Amazon.
4) Snacks and drinks
Not all hospitals allow women to eat/drink in labor, but yours might. It may also depend on your doctor/midwife’s approval. If you are able, I’d recommend eating and drinking to keep your strength up. For my last birth, I created a birthing smoothie full of ingredients specifically chosen to (hopefully) improve my birth experience. That birth was the closest I’ve ever come to “painless” except for the last five minutes when I was pushing (baby had her hand up with her head… ouch). You can also create your own electrolyte-replacement drink, sometimes called “labor-aid.” Coconut water is another great choice for electrolytes and nutrients in labor.
If you give your body the nutrients it needs, it performs its normal bodily functions (including birth) much more easily and smoothly. Even if you don’t feel like eating or drinking, your labor support person will probably get tired and hungry, so it’s a good idea to bring snacks and drinks anyway.
5) Coconut oil
I’d recommend you bring along a small container of coconut oil as well. Coconut oil is an excellent nipple-soother for those sometimes-painful early days of breastfeeding, and it’s superior to any diaper rash cream I’ve used. It will also help protect you and your baby from acquiring thrush (a common yeast infection affecting moms and babies). Coconut oil contains lots of lauric acid, and lauric acid “exhibits antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties. It acts by disrupting the lipid membranes in organisms like fungus, bacteria and viruses, thus destroying them” (source). I used these benefits to my advantage when my baby and I developed thrush a couple of months after her birth. I slathered coconut oil on my painful, cracked, thrushy nipples and my baby’s yeasty mouth and rash-filled bottom, and we kicked those bad guys out of the house.
6) Skin-to-skin gear
In the last few years, I’ve seen more and more shirts designed to facilitate “kangeroo care” and skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby. I also think it would be easy to use a baby wrap instead. Since I already have several homemade baby wraps, that’s probably what I would use myself, but the shirts are super cool too. It’s easy to make a baby wrap and much cheaper than buying one. You can see my post HERE for details. You don’t necessarily need “gear” to do skin-to-skin time with your baby, but a wrap or shirt would enable you to keep your hands free to use the bathroom or to eat your delicious hospital food. ;-)
OK, she won’t fit in your bag, but seriously… get some awesome labor support. You’ll be so glad you did. Gathering and analyzing the results of 15 studies, a team of researchers found that, compared to women laboring without a doula, women who labored with a doula were:
• 26% less likely to have a cesarean section
• 41% less likely to have a vacuum extractor or forceps delivery
• 28% less likely to use pain medication or epidurals
• 33% less likely to rate their birth experience negatively
Studies also show that women who are supported by doulas are more likely to have success with breastfeeding. My husband was always my primary labor support person, but experienced women offer a type of support no man could.
What other birth bag tips do you have? Please share in the comments!