You’re stocked up on baby gear, your nursery is decorated to perfection, and now it’s time to pack the hospital bag. Your hospital bag is basically a kit of essentials for your baby and you to make your time in the hospital before, during, and after labor as comfortable and successful as possible.
I’m pregnant with baby No. 2 and am beginning to prepare for my delivery and pack my bag again. I’ll spare you what didn’t work for me and go right to some of my top must-haves for my bag. Of course, be sure you first pack the essentials for you, the baby, and your partner. Your physician may give you a starter list, but with my first baby, I found that there’s another somewhat out-of-the-box way to fill your hospital bag: Approach labor like an athlete.
Yes, you read that right! There are numerous parallels between athletic training and birth preparation. Interestingly enough, physiological changes to a woman’s body during pregnancy are more athletically inclined than not. Cardiac output increases by 30-50 percent, blood volume nearly doubles, and the amount of air inhaled with each breath increases.
The more I thought about what actually happens to the body physically during pregnancy and labor, the more I realized that I could use items that were very similar to what I often pack for race day. I compartmentalized some of these items for different stages of labor. Let’s break it down.
- Chapstick or Aquaphor. Physical exertion requires a lot of hydration. Often hospitals will only let you go the ice chip route. Your lips will be very dry so be prepared. Additionally, if you are breastfeeding, you will feel like you ran a half marathon every morning in the Sahara Desert. I constantly felt like I was never on top of hydration.
- Earbuds and a playlist. This is a no-brainer. You may have spent a lot of time putting together your last race day playlist. Do the same for delivery day.
- Compression socks. Whether you’re swelling from loss of minerals or because you’ve been on an IV drip, compression socks are helpful for the few days you will be hanging out horizontally in the hospital.
- Arnica. After having my first child I was sore. Not a big surprise! But I was sore in unexpected places like my biceps and quads. Arnica helped me tackle the muscle soreness along with a few other nutrition items below. Tip: Buy the cream instead of the sticky ointment.
Nutrition During Labor
Some hospitals will let you eat and drink during labor. Some won’t. Have these items handy for the car trip, laboring at home, or if you are at a location that is eating- and drinking-friendly.
- An electrolyte drink. Water alone will not suffice for an extended or even fast labor. Look into dissolvable tablets (I like nuun) so that you can mix them in anything or stick with an old staple like coconut water. I personally mixed ½ water and ½ pineapple coconut water with chia seeds. I’ve been using this mixture for marathon training since 2009 and its worked wonders for me during labor, too.
- Edible electrolytes. If you prefer to have something to chew on, grab some electrolyte gummies or jelly beans.
- Chia seeds. You’ve probably heard about the wonders of these little seeds. A good source of both protein and antioxidants, they also promote hydration. They have a long list of benefits, but when you need maximum nutrient-density, these deliver the goods. Pick up chia gel packs, chia juice, oatmeal cookies with chia in them, anything with chia—you decide.
The baby is here! So many feels! So many questions! And all that brain fog may keep you from focusing and remembering crucial info. Brain fog is real and similar to what you may have experienced after a long run or marathon. When you exert yourself for an extended period of time, your body’s glycogen stores become depleted. This often results in “bonking,” or feeling like you hit a wall. Because your brain relies heavily on glucose to fuel cellular activities, this glycogen depletion affects cognitive thinking and reaction time.
One way to tackle that brain fog is to stay on top of nutrition. Since hospitals aren’t always known for their 5-star menus, I make sure to pack nutrient-dense and tasty items.
Here’s what I recommend:
- An electrolyte-based beverage. Keep drinking to restore any minerals (e.g. potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium) you may have lost during labor.
- Oatmeal packs. Oatmeal is easy to heat up in the hospital (you only need hot water). I made snack bag-sized power packs to add to oatmeal to eat throughout the day. Bonus: Oatmeal is great for increasing breastmilk supply! A few flavor options I love:
- Hemp hearts, raw pumpkin seeds, cinnamon
- Goji berries, vegan mini chocolate chips, sliced almonds
- Ground flax seeds, golden raisins, ½ scoop of pea protein
- Almond butter packs. These are wonderful to add to oatmeal, put on toast, or just eat straight. They also offer a fantastic boost of magnesium and Vitamin E.
- Turmeric. You can find this as capsules or drinks. It has amazing anti-inflammatory properties and is essential post-labor.
- Apple cider vinegar. I used this religiously during marathon training and really felt it made a difference. Adding 2 teaspoons to a full glass of water in the morning can help:
Feel ready? Just like on race day, there’s always a chance that a few unforeseen circumstances may occur. Birth is exciting, but may not go as planned. Regardless, packing a few items in advance can not only help you feel prepared physically but mentally as well.