What To Expect After Giving Birth In a Hospital (So You Can Be As Prepared As Possible)

Expect the unexpected.

During my first pregnancy, I read a lot about how to care for a baby, what baby things I needed to buy, and what my body was going through, but I didn’t read past the “Signs of Labor” chapter.

I skipped right over hospital stuff and continued reading about bringing the baby home and experiencing the first few months with a new baby.

Perhaps I just assumed the hospital stuff takes care of itself. And it did for the most part.

During the labor and delivery process, nurses and doctors are constantly swarming, taking charge, you just need to listen to them and focus on the experience that is labor. You’re not in charge at that moment.

But after that, you’re going to be in the hospital for a minimum of 48 hours and slowly the responsibilities start to shift back to you. Some things I was prepared for, like the exhaustion, family visits, hospital food, and the joy of meeting my son.

However, there were some things about post-delivery that I hadn’t prepared for.

Personal care.

ultimate hospital bag packing list

I guess in hindsight I should have been prepared, but it was still a surprise to me how I felt post-labor. You’re sore and bleeding, and simply making it to the bathroom feels like an accomplishment.  And when you get there, you have an entirely new hygiene routine to begin.

  • Mesh underwear. I brought my own but realized right away it was better to use the ones provided. You will be bleeding and these are lightweight and disposable. It was one less thing I had to worry about and just threw away each pair. You’re also provided with pads for the bleeding.
  • Ice packs. Yes, they are cold. Yes, it feels like you’re wearing a diaper, but it helps. I was initially confused when the nurse brought me my first one because it felt so heavy that I thought I wouldn’t be able to sit on it, but when you’re laying back in the bed it isn’t so bad.
  • Tucks pads. These are medicated pads that give relief from irritation from stitches and/or hemorrhoids.
  • Plastic water bottle.  You can use this to rinse yourself with warm water. It keeps you clean throughout your stay or until you can take a shower, which I recommend doing if you have that option.

There were also three “trash” containers: a regular trash can, a linens container, and a hazardous waste bin. I had an uncomplicated, fairly quick delivery, so for moms with longer labors, or even C-sections, I would guess these are even more intensified.

Papers galore.

paperwork at the hospital

There’s a lot involved with bringing another life into the world.

Doctors and nurses kept arriving and showing me papers and handing me a pen. I only half understood what they were saying.  Forms for shots and for hospital records, forms for consent and circumcision, financial forms, and health record forms.

Everything was hazy to me, and I can’t recall any of the conversations but signed anyway.

I think it’s a good idea to have your partner be the point person for signing documents. The hospital isn’t going to pull anything over on you, but at least someone will have an understanding of what’s going on because some things are more important than others. You’ll be handed:

  • Legal Paperwork. This includes everything you need to do for your baby’s birth certificate.
  • Health Records. Your baby will get shots, measurements, and go through testings. Some things you need to sign off for and others they’re just letting you know what they are doing.
  • Reading Materials. You’ll be handed everything from breastfeeding, umbilical cord care, financing options, and packets from the health department with immunization records, growth charts, and signs of post-partum depression.

I was overwhelmed by everything. If you try to read everything in the hospital, you won’t remember much. Bring it all home, and browse through it in pieces when you need it. I’d suggest making two piles, one for important/necessary items, and one for helpful/educational papers.

Lactation consultants.

lactation consultant

I thought breastfeeding would just happen. My baby would arrive, say “I’m hungry!” and just know what to do.

Turns out, that is not how it works. Your baby, and you, will need to learn how to breastfeed together, and the first few days (maybe weeks) will be hard. (See our MomTricks article on cracked nipples. It happens.)

It’s smart to take advantage of the lactation consultants while you’re in the hospital. My lactation consultant brought me a nipple shield when my baby was having a hard time on my left side. She helped me use my breast pump the first time. She showed me how to position my baby’s head to promote correct latching.

Ask questions. Nothing is weird to them. Ask them to observe you breastfeeding to get tips and pointers to help you comfortably and properly feed your baby.

Because it’s so important to establish the breastfeeding early, you need to monitor how you and baby are doing. While you’re in the hospital you’ll record every feed including how many minutes on each side.

Even if you’re not breastfeeding, you’ll need to keep track of how many ounces your baby is eating and the amount and color of every poop. It’s good practice because when you get home you’ll be doing this on your own.

It’s called labor for a reason.

You’re going to give birth to a beautiful baby. It will be hard. Don’t expect yourself to feel normal right away. Your hormones are out of control. Your body just went through a traumatic experience.

Take advantage of whatever you can while in the hospital and don’t worry about if you’re doing it “right.”  There’s no right or wrong way to experience childbirth. Ask questions and don’t hesitate to push the call button when you need something.

I was excited to go home, but I was also holding back tears as we walked down the hallway. I must have looked lost because a nurse hovered around me and basically walked us all the way out to our car.  Soon your memory of the time in the hospital will be a little fuzzy, but it is the first day of life for your little one!

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