What to expect at the hospital
For the most part – everyone will follow the same pattern. How long you spend at each step along the way will differ. Ok this is how it is going to go down. Whether by a doctor during a visit telling you it is time to have the baby or when you have used some other class or book to determine your partner’s contractions means you are ready to go. You head to the hospital or birth center.
The first thing I found surprising was that although I was completely panicked on the inside and out. For the most part checking in was very administrative. There was a lot of waiting around, filling out forms, then waiting around. Finally we were checked into our room where you guessed it… more waiting around.
Most hospitals have two different room types. A labor and delivery area and a recovery area. I was shocked at how cold and sterile the labor and delivery room was. Makes sense… but don’t worry you should be marginally more comfortable after the baby arrives.
The next thing that stood out to me was how truely on our own we were. For some reason, I had this false sense of delusion that the nurse was going to be there a lot of help through the process. In our hospital each nurse had multiple patients and whoever needed them more got more attention. They were all very friendly but it really was, check on baby and mom’s vitals every once in a while and wait for “go time”. There were hours of intense contractions where it felt very lonely and panic built. If you need more support having a family member or hiring a doula would be well worth it.
So eventually you will get to a point where your spouse is having frequent contractions (every minute or so). This is the hard part and you are basically useless. The key here is being supportive, keeping her calm, and reminding her to breath. You will do this song and dance for a while and eventually it is go time. The nurse comes in and does most of the work and then right before delivery the doctor comes in and bats? clean up. We had some complications and had to do an emergency c-section.
Next you will spend a few hours recovering with the baby and mom. Getting to hold the baby, taking pictures, having skin to skin time, and feeding. From there you will usually be transferred to a new room where you will remain for the remainder of your stay. When you first get there your new nurse will usually walk you through the ropes and make sure you are prepared with everything you need. After that, besides check ins, you are relatively on your own at that point as well.
It helps to think of the next two – three days as 2-3 hour shifts. If you bring the right equipment (see below) you should be able to take turns getting small naps and rotating who is taking care of the baby between feeds.
What to bring with you to the hospital
- Bring real food – don’t just bring snacks. Bring sandwiches and/or better quick, full meals because during labor and the early hours of getting into a routine you will be hungry and not able to easily sneak away to the cafe.
- Bring onesies with zippers. The clothes they provide at the hospital are really hard to get on and off the baby. A onesie makes it so much easier. Bring multiple – they will get dirty. Also bring both newborn and 0-3. Babies can be larger than a newborn size at birth (most are for 6-9 pounds) and different brands run small / large; both of my girls couldn’t fit into newborn sizes.
- Bring swaddles. It is 1,000 times easier than learning how to swaddle with their blankets. It keeps them comforted much longer and is easier to take on and off. Not to mention you will be less stressed about the swaddle coming loose.
- Bring earplugs and a mask. You will be sleeping in shifts. Between the nurses coming in every hour or two, the baby being up. You will need to trade on and off sleeping and they really help.
- Bring your own pillow and a dark colored pillow case. We also went and got a cheap pillow case from target. This allowed us not to stress so much when the pillow fell on the hospital floor or the baby spit up on the pillow. It also helped that it was a different color so we could differentiate it from the hospital pillows. Having your own pillow will be both comforting and necessary as many times the hospitals have limited pillows and they’re usually pretty thin anyway.
Tips for Leaving the Hospital
Whether you are the kind of parents who want to get out of the hospital as soon as possible, or begging to stay that extra day, checking out is always more complex and longer than you expect. Between timing feedings, sleep, pumping, checking out paperwork, getting it all done is tough.
- Ask to do the paperwork ahead of time. Things like birth certificate paperwork and checkout procedures.
- Tell your nurses you are ready to go in the morning / even if intending the afternoon. With both kids we started the “checkout” process at 10am and actually got in the car closer to 3pm.
- Checkout during non-busy traffic time. Avoid some of that drive home stress with the newborn.
- Remember you’re already paying an arm and a leg for the hospital. Remember to ask for extras to take home. Extra diapers/wipes… no problem. Little pipettes, the grey tubs … sure! Breastfeeding gels for your wife…get it! We would get 3-4 grey tubs to bring home. One to go on the left of the sink (dirty bottles and items) one for the right (clean items) and one to transfer stuff up and down stairs. You’re paying for it – and most likely hitting an out of pocket max. Go wild.
In the end, don’t stress too much. You will have nurses who can answer questions and the hospital stay will be a short stay on your long journey of adjusting to new parenthood.
Make sure to check out my next part in the series: Preparing for fatherhood: Your first few days home.