Tips For a Successful Hospital Stay
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.
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.
Published March 31, 2009. Last updated March 27, 2018.