The time you spend in the hospital after giving birth can be a whirlwind of doctors visits, visits from friends and family, baby checkups, and frenzied first moments. There is so much to do before leaving the hospital, too, so it's easy to get overwhelmed. On the practical level, there are insurance forms to fill out, car seats to install, hospital bills to take care of, and follow up appointments to make. However, there are lots of other things every new mom should do before leaving the hospital and taking that precious newborn home. After all, that's when the "fun" really begins.
I was lucky (I guess?) in that my hospital stay was longer than most. A c- section means you get to stay four to five days in the hospital, so I was there for four nights. It felt like the longest week of my life, and still, it was a blur. I kept myself extremely busy with a long check list of self-imposed to-do's, ranging from writing in my journal about my feelings to taking daily photos of my newborn, to making sure that I replied to every single text that my friends had written to me. In hindsight, I should have said to hell with all that, and just concentrated on resting, holding, and enjoying my baby.
So, when I had my second baby, I made sure to go into it a lot differently. I didn't bother bringing a journal and I told friends in advance that they may not hear from me for a while, but that I appreciated their messages. I spent my days in the hospital relearning how to care for a newborn, collecting the swag I would need for my baby when I got home, getting all the info I would need from the nurses and doctors, and most importantly, taking care of myself. So, with that in mind, here are some of the less-recognized-but-very-important things new moms should do before they go home with that brand new baby:
Take A Life-Changing Shower
One of the best things you can do before leaving the hospital is to take a shower. This may not be high on your priority list when you have that new baby to take care of, all those nurses and doctors popping in all the time, rest to be having, and things to be learning about baby care. But let me tell you, that first shower after giving birth is life-changing. You will (excuse the pun) feel reborn.
A shower with one of your favorite body washes or shampoos from home will make you feel like a new woman. I literally felt like I had taken three shots of espresso after my first post-birth shower.
Hoard All The Free Swag
Most hospitals gift new moms with some free swag. Don't be shy! Take that stuff home with you. Most of it is useful. My hospital gave me a makeup bag with some body wash, shampoo and conditioner, an eye mask and lip balm, hand cream, and a tote bag. All of these things came in handy in the hospital, and I still use the makeup bag to this day.
Of course, it's probably best to take the baby related stuff home with you, too. The nurses are usually really helpful about getting you extras of whatever you might need for baby before you go home. You'll want to stock up on things like kimono shirts, hospital blankets, pacifiers, newborn diapers, thermometers, combs (these are great for dry scalp), nasal aspirator, the small tub that they use to wash baby in, and the disposable dry cloths that you wet and use as wipes.
For you, you'll want to take home the extra long pads they give you at the hospital for heavy bleeding, and some of the chucks they used in your hospital bed to use at home for the first few days (to protect your sheets).
Sit In On A Lactation Class
This might be your first opportunity to sit among your new "sisters" in motherhood. Your head might be too dizzy and full of all the information you've been taking in since having given birth (from, like, yesterday) to take any real information in during this class, but it's nice to simply sit among your people.
I suggest taking a quick scan around the room and remind yourself that all of these women have just gone through what you've gone through. This may not be their first time given birth, but they're still feeling the feelings that come from bringing life into the world. They're uncomfortable, they're working on their latch or waiting for milk to come in, or maybe some of them might have advice about what's working for them. It's worth sticking your head in.
Watch A Nurse Swaddle Your Baby
Nurses are simply magical when it comes to swaddling. No one can swaddle the way a nurse can swaddle, I'm freakin' sure of it. I don't know how they do it, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot replicate that tight, super-snug swaddle that they're able to do (and with those small hospital blankets, no less).
You'll never swaddle like a pro, but it is still inspiring to watch a pro at work (and it gives you a goal to aspire to).
Splurge On The Overpriced Hospital Photos
I was not going to go for the professional hospital photos that were being offered during my stay. I didn't see the point of paying for photos in a super sterile looking setting, where I looked busted and totally not cute. However, my husband convinced me to take the photos anyway, and we could decide after seeing them if we liked them. There wasn't any upfront payment required, as you only pay if you decide to buy the photos. We set up one of the soft and fluffy blankets one of my friends brought, so that the pictures didn't feature that very hospital-looking blanket in each shot. I didn't bother with makeup because, who cared?
When we got the pictures over a month later, I was so happy we had done it because they were really beautiful. My newborn had changed so much since that day, obviously, and it was amazing to look back at how much he had grown. The looks on my face and my husband's were incredible to see; just how new we were to this experience and how small our newborn was in our arms. I still look at those pictures and am so grateful I have them.
Ask Your Doctors Or Nurses All Of The Questions
Make sure to accost as many nurses as possible to ask them all of your questions. Consider your days at the hospital a crash course in newborn care. Here is where you can learn how to bathe a baby, swaddle a baby, feed a baby, brush a baby's hair, take a baby's temperature, use those scary looking nasal aspirator's, and whatever else you don't necessarily feel comfortable doing. Not yet, anyway.
Watch That Awful "Don't Shake The Baby" Video
This is grim, and you might wonder, "Who would ever want to shake an innocent, beautiful angel such as my perfect and amazing baby sleeping soundly in this little plastic bassinet beside me? I don't need to watch this dumb video!"
Then it's like, fast forward to several nights later when you're up from 1 am until 4 am with your "perfect angel" who has suddenly sprouted some imperfections and is screaming uncontrollably despite the fact that you've done all the things on the list of stuff that's supposed to calm a baby down. You've never felt exhaustion like this before. Suddenly you think back to that video, and, you're kind of like, "I get it? At least a teeny bit?"
Throw Out Your Gnarly Hospital Socks (Or Flip Flops)
Some people like to keep all of their hospital swag. I draw the line at used hospital socks. I urge you to do the same. If you've been using your hospital socks to walk around the maternity ward or to and from the bathroom, please, just throw them out. Ditto on whatever flip flops or booties you may have brought from home. You do not want to drag hospital germs into your home now that it has a newborn in it.
Get Some Digits
I suggest snagging the direct number of the maternity ward (and one or two nurses) in case you have any questions. If your baby was seen by any specialists at the hospital, make sure to make your follow up appointments before leaving and get the numbers and names of the doctors with whom you met. This may sound obvious but, trust me, those days can all seem like a dreamy blur.
My son had some scary complications after he was born that required a day of tests and heart-wrenching hours of waiting for answers. If it weren't for my cool-headed husband, we wouldn't have recorded any of the doctor's information or the date for our follow up appointments. I even needed the doctor to draw me a diagram of my son's problem, because my brain just wasn't taking anything in at the time. It was a completely warped and out of body experience.
Change Into Something A Little More Comfortable
When I say "a little," I mean "a lot." Just because the baby is no longer inside your belly, don't think you can bring your pre-baby jeans to the hospital. What are you, a masochist? Bring the most comfy, cozy, no-one-should-ever-see-me-in-these-stretch-pants to the hospital, because you are going to be all about comfort.
Send Home Gifts And Stuff In Advance Of Your Departure
You don't need a circus in your car on the drive back home from the hospital. If at all possible, send back gifts and balloons and snack baskets (or better yet, eat the snacks or leave them with the helpful nurses and staff) with family members or friends. That first car ride with baby is pretty anxiety-inducing as it is, so you don't need the extra stress of balancing multiple vases of flowers in your lap.
Besides, balloons blocking that rear window are probably not the best idea.