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Tips For a Successful Hospital Stay

By Amalah

Ah, the joys of modern medicine! Giving birth in a gleaming, sanitary hospital environment, aided by unparalleled advancements in health care technology, surrounded by kind nurses as your room fills up with flowers, in a hospital gown that opens up the back revealing your giant mesh panties filled up past your asscrack with ultra-absorbent pads, struggling like a flipped-over turtle to find a comfortable position on a hideously uncomfortable bed while your roommate’s kids come over to watch your TV and a tray of inedible rubber beef tips and jello taunts your growling stomach, while the functions of your bladder and bowels are questioned and announced to the rest of the western world.

So…my hospital stays were not quite in line with my expectations. I imagined a fairly restful experience, comprised of lots of friends and family hanging around and keeping me entertained, followed by bouts of quiet downtime where I would Get Things Accomplished, like thank-you notes and birth announcements and crossword puzzles. Neither experience was terrible — honestly, despite a few hiccups, my second hospital stay felt like a paid vacation, with hours and hours of nothing but newborn snuggling and people bringing me cupcakes and the absolute best excuse for getting absolutely NOTHING ELSE accomplished .

But, I do wish someone had told me a few of the following things for a successful hospital stay when giving birth:

1. Take the labor & delivery/ hospital tour.

Make sure you see both the birthing suites AND the mother-baby rooms. My first hospital tour made a big deal over the large birthing suites with soaking tubs and iPod jacks and then REALLY glossed over the tiny, cramped, dual-occupancy mother-baby rooms where I would ultimately spend waaay more time. Find out how they handle lactation services (does a lactation consultant make regular patient rounds or simply lead a daily breastfeeding support group?). Ask about visiting policies (are there limits to how many visitors can be in your room? can your best friend bring her daughter?). Are there free snacks and drinks for patients or will you need to bring rolls of change for vending machines? Check your cell phone reception in the hallways and rooms. Eat at the cafeteria to gauge just how bad (or acceptable) it will be.

2. No, really. Take the maternity ward tour.

Since I gave birth at the same hospital three years ago, I skipped the tour, even though I knew they’d upgraded and overhauled the maternity ward. I figured it would be the same, but — you know, better! Private rooms afterwards! WiFi! Yay! But they also changed their lactation services from private to group, cut costs by getting rid of the rather delicious meal service in favor of something much more institutional and terrible, switched to patient-led pain management and changed all sorts of rules about when a baby could spend time in the nursery. By the time I caught up on all the policy changes, it was time to check out.

3. Have a back-up hospital bag.

Sure, pack all the essentials, the stuff you KNOW you want. But also toss a few things that you *might* want into the car, and leave them there until you get to your room. At this point you might realize that you only get one shoddy pillow and want your own — or two of your own. You might find that the “towels” provided for your shower are essentially hand towels made of tissue paper. You might really want your Odwalla juice instead of the hospital’s offerings. Oh look! A DVD player. Huh. I sure could go for an Arrested Development marathon. There’s no sense in lugging stuff like that in with you before giving birth — once you get in and settled, send your partner out to the car for a secondary luggage run.

4. Broadcast your visitor wishes.

Not in the mood for guests? Say so. Feeling lonely? Let your friends and family know your room number and when visiting hours are. Some people are intrusive and assume they’re welcome; others err on the side of your privacy and might not realize that you would like them to come see you. If your partner sends out a birth announcement email, that’s a great place to put your visitor preferences down in black and white.

5. Think the sibling thing through first.

I couldn’t wait for Noah to meet his new brother, and had my in-laws bring him over as soon they could. But the sight of me confined to bed with an IV on the first night genuinely unnerved him, and he wanted nothing to do with me or the baby. I was devastated that I couldn’t even get him to give me a hug goodbye. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have rushed the first meeting until I was up and around post-C-section surgery, wearing my familiar old bathrobe and looking less “sick.” We got better after that first traumatizing encounter by having fun snacks he could eat in bed with me, and a Duplo block train set (we added more track and accessories to it each night) that kept him happy and entertained while my in-laws fussed over the baby.

6. Eat, drink, be merry.

As your body recovers and gets to the business of milk-production, you neeeeeed calories and water in a big way. If the hospital food is inedible, insist that someone, anyone, brings you something you can actually eat. This is also a good task for family members who you might not especially want hanging out in your room for hours on end.

7. Walk it out.

Get out of bed and walk the hallways. (Wearing a bathrobe, of course, or ask for a second hospital gown to wear backwards if your robe is too hot.) Most hospitals won’t let you carry the baby outside your room, but you can put him in his bassinet and push that around with you. It’s good for you and gets…ahem…*things moving again* that you…ahem…really want to *get moving again*, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, fine. LOTS OF WALKING WILL HELP YOU POOP AND FART, WHICH ARE TWO SKILLS NOBODY TELLS YOU THAT YOU ESSENTIALLY HAVE TO RE-LEARN AFTER GIVING BIRTH THERE I SAID IT.

8. Welcome to the world of conflicting expert opinions.

Look, just because somebody is wearing scrubs and a hospital ID does not mean their word is God. One nurse will encourage skin-to-skin while another will scold you for undressing the baby. An overworked hospital lactation consultant might tell you everything looks “fine” even though your nipples are bleeding and your baby is tongue-tied. (Stretchy-membrane thing under his tongue goes all the way to the tip, making his tongue resemble the top of a heart, preventing it from going past his lower lip and thus nurse correctly and causing you crazy pain.) A bored night nurse might suggest a bottle of formula when there’s no reason yet to offer formula. A pediatrician might raise the jaundice alarm while whoever is on-call the next day sees no reason to be concerned. I’ve never gotten more conflicting advice and opinions than during my hospital stays, which I guess makes them the perfect crash course for real-world parenting.

9. Improvise.

After having a roommate for Noah’s birth, Jason and I were THRILLED at the prospect of a private room where he could stay overnight with me. But it turned out the fold-out bed was ridiculously uncomfortable and Jason didn’t sleep a blessed wink. He then kept falling asleep on a chair the next day when I really needed him to fetch me food and help me start getting out of bed. And then he couldn’t fall asleep at night and wanted to watch Iron Man on my room’s DVD player while I wanted to sleep. I finally told him that I loved him more than anything and thanked him for his part in giving me my wonderful new baby but OH MY GOD, if he did not leave right that moment and go home so I could have some peace and quiet I was going to smother him with my Boppy. In the end, we were both happier with the daytime-only arrangement, much to our surprise.

10. Roommates suck, sorry.

I wish I had tips for dealing with a roommate situation, but I don’t. Other than to find a hospital with private rooms, or get really attached to your iPod. My roommate was terrible, loud, annoying and kind of crazy. Despite having a c-section, she refused to take any pain medication until hearing from EVERY doctor and nurse on the floor that it was safe to take while breastfeeding. When she was told that her pediatrician wouldn’t be available to answer that question until the morning, she opted to wait, then started screaming like a wild banshee at 3 am because of the pain, only to get incredibly annoyed at me a few hours later when Noah woke her up with his crying. Her husband would bring one of their three spirited boys over to my side of the room to spank him, while wearing a World’s Best Dad t-shirt. THEN she developed diarrhea and became convinced that she was going to pop one of her internal stitches because of it, and refused to flush the (shared) toilet until a nurse came and inspected the contents for evidence of internal bleeding every time and did I mention this woman already had THREE CHILDREN?

So. Basically, if you are stuck with a roommate, remember every little crazy thing they do and relish the thought of mocking them at dinner parties and on the Internet for years to come.

If you landed here but are still pregnant, visit Amalah’s Pregnancy Calendar. You won’t regret it.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • wallydraigle

    March 31, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Oh my gosh. Were I you, I would have knifed my roommate. With a dull cafeteria butter knife.
    My hospital was actually pretty awesome. The best part was the really, really good food. One thing I hated about the hospital stay was the mesh panties. I loved them at first, but then the fibers worked their way into my skin somehow, and I was scratching them out (even when I managed to restrain myself while awake, I’d do it in my sleep) for the next two weeks. Two. Weeks.
    I was kind of pissed about one thing: The birthing center at my hospital is really nice. The rooms are like hotel rooms, and you labor and deliver and stay all in the same one. Sweet, right? Well, only if you don’t end up with a c-section. Then they move you to a crappy, cramped little room where there’s barely enough room to turn around, let alone take visitors. I will have a chip on my shoulder about that for a long time. Although I did get TWO sweet hospital cups–one from each room. That was nice. I still cart those cups around everywhere.

  • jodifur

    March 31, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    I cannot express how happy I am that my cupcakes made it!

  • sarab

    March 31, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    Why did you have to learn how to poo and fart after giving birth?! What are you talking about? I never had trouble with either. Walking and not stagnating in one of those wretched beds is a good idea, though.

  • Catherine S

    March 31, 2009 at 8:21 pm

    This is a great post! These are all things that I wish I had thought about when preparing for my son’s birth. We lucked out in several departments, mostly the food and the single rooms. No place for the husband to stay in the room though, would have been nice to have him there.
    Reesemcg, where do you look to find a free doula??? I am planning on having one the next time and am willing to pay, but free is better:)

  • qwyneth

    March 31, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Oh god, the conflicting advice! The pediatricians, lactation consultants, and other nurses were all fine with my son’s initial issues nursing, but my day nurse kept pushing formula and giving me these judgy looks. I was not a fan.
    Also, it’s not enough to know that the hospital has tubs, you also have to ask what the conditions are for using them. Some hospitals have them but most of the doctors won’t let you use them, or you have to meet certain medical conditons. (I had to have my water broken to check for meconium before I got in the tub, but at another hospital we looked at you could only get didn’t shower if your water hadn’t broken.)

  • Beth

    March 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    OMG with the conflicting advice. And the UNSOLICITED advice. In the 3 days I was at the hospital only 1 nurse worked more than one shift and she was unbearable. “They like it when you hold them this way instead of that way.” “I found it easier to breastfeed side-lying with a pillow behind the baby.” “I just had a baby, so I know how every baby works!”
    However, we lucked out big time and had the only single room in the hospital. It made complaining about said nurse so much easier as I didn’t have to even worry about someone thinking I was a biotch.

  • reesemcg

    March 31, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    another one for your list… Get a doula! You can get one for free if you know where to look. They will do everything from providing emotional support to fending off family members lurking in the waiting room. they also are trained in all things labor and childbirth so they have lots of tips and tricks.

  • Elizabeth_K

    April 1, 2009 at 8:49 am

    Everything you’ve said is so true … and actually why I am *CONTEMPLATING* going to a birthing center this time (I’m only 11 weeks along) — the hospital stay my first time was incredibly UNSATISFACTORY, what with the “what is your pain, on a scale of 1 – 10” to get what is basically OVER THE COUNTER Tylenol, and the constant waking by people taking your blood pressure, and the horrid food. And I had a private room! Anyway … this is a fantastic series … thank you! Will you tie it to the pregnancy calendar as Week 41, etc? Or where can we find it on the site regularly? I’m addicted!
    Editor: It has it’s own masthead as “Bounce Back.” But we are promoting it at the end of each of the final weeks of our pregnancy calendar, “Zero To Forty”.
    Also, so happy to hear that you are enjoying it.

  • miriam

    April 1, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Uh, yeah. Tie it to the pregnancy calendar.
    I’m starting to get anxious– I’m glad they won’t kick me out after I deliver the placenta, but 48 hours in a hospital is TWO NIGHTS!
    I used to brag about not having a “lovie” when I was a kid (blankie, teddy bear, etc), but my husband kind of fills that role now WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO SLEEP BY MYSELF??? For two nights in a strange place after giving birth?
    At least I have a very low threshold for calling the resident if they’ve done something stupid. I’ll page them through the operator if I need to and pimp them on the phone. (ARGH. OB docs matched only by orthopedic surgeons in their backward attitudes to pain and pain management).

  • Jean

    April 1, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Yeah, when I gave birth to my son, my first roommate was the daughter of one of the nursing staff. There were people constantly in and out of my room and kept her light on all night and she moaned constantly.
    The second roommate was a woman who had a c-section like me, but wanted everyone to help her (like not even trying to learn how to get up out of bed herself – after two days still wanted the nurse to help) and didn’t have a name for their baby. They asked EVERY SINGLE PERSON THEY SAW what they should name their baby. I was so happy to leave 🙂

  • Margie

    April 1, 2009 at 10:01 am

    This is such perfect timing! I’m due in a week, and since the pregnancy calendars don’t hold much new and interesting information for me anymore, I’m loving get the scoop on what I’m headed for afterward! Thank you Amy and thanks to everyone who added their thoughts – it all makes me feel ever so slightly more prepared. Now if I could just convince her to go ahead and come on out!

  • Michelle

    April 1, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Those darn hospital gowns…I wore the nursing ones but never actually used the nursing slots I would just pull the back side around. I only wish someone would have told me that we would be playing peek-a-boob in every picture taken of me at the hospital! I love my husband!
    I lucked out because I had a c-section with all of my deliveries and I always had a private room. I think I may have gone crazy otherwise.
    The food was crappy with my first two but with my third daughter the hospital I delivered at you could order food 24/7 and eat whatever you wanted. I had a lot of milkshakes and cheesecake!

  • Della

    April 1, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I was lucky enough to have a private room for both delivery and recovery. My experience was actually really nice, but there are a few things I learned the first time that I will take with me this time (I’m 16 weeks into Preg #2), and that I think bear repeating for others:
    1) What Amy said about the second bag… yes. And TAKE THAT BAG WITH YOU. Leave it in the car, sure, but take it with you. We went to the hospital thinking they’d examine me TO SEE WHETHER I should be checked in [water had broken 16 hours previously and contractions were still 30 minutes apart], so we didn’t bring most of the stuff. In reality, they would not examine me UNTIL I had been checked in.
    2) I. Was. SO. Scared. To. Poop. (the first time after birth) I was terrified that I would rip something open or be constipated and have to push really hard and everything was already so strained and stressed from the previous pushing… I was TERRIFIED of that first poop. But guess what? They gave me stool softeners. My advice? TAKE THE STOOL SOFTENER THEY GIVE YOU. I had nice, happy, comfortable poop!… once I relaxed enough to try.
    3) Learned from my birth class: take your hospital tour, but figure out which rules are going to be ok to break and which are not. For instance, my hospital technically had a rule of no wearing bras during labor (the rationale being that if they have to cut you open, do CPR, or anything involving your upper body, they don’t want your underwire or sports bra impeding their care). Yeeeeeah… no. I totally wore a nursing bra the whole time, during and after delivery, and nobody said ANYthing to me about it. So I had gotten all freaked out about this rule, and it was no big deal.
    4) You will be SO, SO, SO, SO grateful to your nurses. You will have a million dozen nurses over the course of 2-3 days. You will wish you had some way to show your appreciation, and if you don’t have it on hand, you THINK you will be able to remember all their names and send them a note a week later. However, you will be WRONG. You will look like a freaking ingrate walking away without a second thought because your baby hormones will have totally fried your brain. SO! You should plan for this in advance. Either bring along a basket full of little somethings for the nurses, or bring a couple samplers of chocolates (one to leave in the delivery nurses’ station, one for recovery nurses). And bring at least two dozen of them. If you don’t use them all, you can surely find someone to pawn them off on, but you’ll feel like a total heel if you run out with 24 hours (and 3 shift changes) left to go!
    5) If someone comes around to give you advice about breastfeeding, and you’re breastfeeding, LET HER IN! No matter how painfully shy you are, it would be a million times better to bite the bullet and have someone who is experienced in spotting “yes, exactly, you’re doing just the right thing” or “oh hey, if you changed this one thing [like your arm position] it would make your life 100% easier for the next 7 months” than to be miserable because you never got that help. Also, breastfeeding ladies = usually very motherish and somewhat pushy but KNOWLEDGABLE AND HELPFUL! Please remember this.
    6) Finally… if an actual doctor is going to look at your baby, make sure that doctor is either YOUR chosen doctor, or part of your insurance network. I just add this from personal experience… $300 for a 10-minute exam because I wanted him looked at RIGHT THIS SECOND by a pediatrician and mine wasn’t coming in until tonight or tomorrow morning. Never mind that you are IN A HOSPITAL and the new baby is being taken care of by people who are NEW BABY NURSES FOR A FREAKING LIVING!

  • Courtney

    April 2, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Amy – would you mind telling me where you delivered? I’m delivering at Holy Cross in September and I’m worried it’s going to be some kind of pain-filled experience with crappy food and no privacy.

  • Leah

    April 2, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    My #1 priority when looking for health insurance before getting pregnant was Private Birthing Suite.

  • Leah

    April 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    Oh man, I just noticed the deoderant in your banner illo. HA! (Nice one, SAJ!)

  • Penny

    April 3, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I like this advice. I mean, I’m not so hot on the whole hospital bag thing because everywhere you go, someone’s got some gigantic list of items to bring for a 2-3 day hospital stay, in which generally you are exhausted and wouldn’t care what you slept on or in or around.
    But the other stuff – especially beware of the conflicting advice – is golden. Which, ironically, would justify your crazy roommate’s behavior a little bit, but yea. Still crazy.

  • jonniker

    April 3, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    GOD YES. I had this gorgeous birthing suite looking over Lake Champlain — I mean, this thing was STUNNING. And … I spent the whole time in that suite in unbearable pain, unable to give a shit about the view. Or really anything but getting my daughter out safely.
    When I really could have used some pampering — i.e., after she was out, and we were getting to know each other — I was jammed into this teeny tiny room with barely enough room to walk around in. The only saving grace was that it was a slow baby week, and Adam could stay with me in the other bed. But if it was busy, and two of us had to be in there? I’d have KILLED MYSELF.
    I don’t need to tell you that I didn’t tour that side of the hospital. Oh no, I was all about the stupid BIRTHING SUITE. Which, WHO CARES? By the time I gave birth, I’d have shown my vagina to a roommate AND her whole family with pleasure.

  • Kelly

    April 15, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Yes! I had awesome nurses during delivery – catered to my every want. Then I moved to the postpartum unit and in the first few hours had a nurse that unhooked my IV (and my sweet percocet pump) because it infiltrated, mumbled something about taking pain meds by mouth and then disappeared for hours. Of course this was soon followed by the resident who appeared at my bedside about 5 hours after my c-section asking about my birth control plans. When I explained that I can’t get pg without IVF (severe male factor + PCOS) she responded by telling me that “women with PCOS need to lose a lot of weight, so if you do that you might get pg naturally.” First, who talks about weight loss to a woman less than 6 hours after delivery. I was all – WTF woman, you have no idea what size I am when I haven’t JUST HAD A BABY! Second, I don’t know how my weight loss would magically make hubs have normal sperm, so your logic is a big FAIL.

  • bobeesah

    April 16, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Oh my God, I absolutely love you. I totally agree with everything you said. Especially about getting up and moving around, as soon as possible. It did help.
    And the roommates. OOOOOhhhh the roommates. I ended up with my roomie’s family and children and uncles and aunts and cousins and there had to be at least 30 people crammed in that room and I just wanted to breastfeed for the love of all that was good and mighty without strangers seeing my breasts. At least until I got the hang of it.
    I also agree with comments above. The nurses saved my life, over and over again. And helped me pee. And helped me move around. And helped me with EVERYTHING. I’m still in love with them. Wish I could have taken them home. Sigh.