You could pack four suitcases with the items various websites suggest you might want to prepare for the hospital for when you have a baby. The following were items I found most essential when I was “in stir” for several days. My main advice is to make sure you’re packed a month before your due date. I made sure our bag was ready to go that early, which I think my husband Steve thought was insane until it turned out it was very lucky we had done so. Also, don't be ashamed about bringing a big bag: nobody at the hospital will bat an eye and you will take home more stuff than you brought with you, between gifts from friends and family and supplies you take home from the hospital. (We used a large square duffel bag on wheels.)
Your own pillow/s. I have two kinds of pillows, the functional ones and the comforting ones. I have taken one “security blanket” type pillow with me on car trips, camping, even when I got Lasik eye surgery as something to clutch when my eyeballs got lasered. There are so many unfamiliar textures, sights and smells at the hospital that having my own pillow was an essential comfort.
Sleep mask. My mom bought me this sleep mask a few years ago: I tried it out as an experiment one night and have rarely been separated from it ever since (Steve calls me “Sleep Captain.”) If it’s helpful in hotel rooms and in other people’s sunny apartments, you can imagine how useful it is in a hospital when a nurse is coming in once an hour to check your blood pressure, empty your catheter, change your pads and so on.
Phone charger. For once I had some foresight and didn’t throw away my old phone charger when I got a new cell phone, so I had an extra one to throw in my hospital bag. You won’t want to worry about how much juice you have left when it’s time to keep your loved one up to date on your progress and to spread the good news.
Grabbable notebook/pen. We recorded the movies we watched in the hospital (for posterity), the list of medical procedures I underwent (so I wouldn’t forget) and any questions we had for the doctors and nurses, of which you will have many. You won’t want to be scrabbling for scrap paper. One thing that might be useful is to write down each others’ Social Security numbers in this notebook, as Steve was out of the room when the birth certificate lady called me and I needed to track him down to procure his.
Stretchy dark pants. (Don’t read ahead if you are squeamish): I wasn’t really prepared for how much bleeding you do after you have a baby. It’s like your body saved up all those periods you didn’t have for nine months and lets them all out as your uterus returns to its original size. So the dark is in case of any leaks, the stretchy because the hospital will provide you with pads and ice packs that will make you feel/look like you are wearing a diaper (and you won’t care, trust me.) So you just want room for packing all that magic.
Hairdryer. This is only if you foresee blow-drying your hair providing you some comfort and normalcy. I’m not that big a princess but after looking like (and being) an invalid for several days, pulling myself together a bit felt really good. The hairdryers at Prentice were reliably unreliable so throw a small portable one of your own in your bag, but only if you think it will make you feel good.
iPad/magazines. For you and for your partner, because you will get sick of hospital TV and need a break from email/Facebook etc. Make sure the magazine reading is light because you won’t be able to focus on your New Yorker, plus the articles on fall's printed pants will seem hilarious.
Makeup-removing face wipes. You either won’t want to or won’t be able to stand up and wash your face, but refreshing yourself somehow will feel good. Oh, and if you want to brush your teeth without leaving the bed, just ask your partner to bring you a toothbrush with toothpaste on it and a cup full of water. Brush, rinse, spit, hand off, go to sleep.
A visible list of anything else that needs to be grabbed that you couldn’t pack ahead of time with descriptions of where they’re all located, if necessary, so your partner can gather anything that's not already packed. This is your call. Makeup, laptop, whatever.
Now, here are a few ways you can prepare your home for bringing home a new baby. These don’t involve actually preparing your house for a baby, because you will survive whatever way you find best, but these may help you are a bit more on top of things once you get home:
Have pens and paper readily available in the main rooms of your house. To write down stuff you need to do, questions you have for the pediatrician, notes on presents from well-wishers so you can send them thank-you notes in five years when you finally have time.
Have pairs of scissors readily available in a few spots in your house. For breaking down boxes that care packages have arrived in, for cutting tags off baby clothes.
Try to have a trash/recycling plan. Because with all these packages and paperwork and mail and everything, the trash and recycling will pile up quickly and drive you crazy and make you feel overwhelmed when you don’t need to be, so if you can plot some way to move the clutter out of sight when necessary, it will make you feel a little more organized once you’re home.
Set up longterm pet care if necessary. My parents took our dog for a week which was incredibly helpful as we just trying to get our heads straight the first few days. Eliminating any sort of extra responsibility, like walking/feeding your dog, will make your life a lot easier.
Prepare the bathrooms/changing places in your home. Again, look away if you are squeamish: But the bleeding continues once you come home from the hospital. Whether you have one bathroom or several, make sure each is equipped with pads (these are great) and ideally a squeeze bottle (for cleaning/soothing the place that did all the work — I believe you’ll still bleed even if you have a C-section). Also put a supply of pads where you keep your lingerie, along with some nursing pads, which you will need regardless of whether you are breastfeeding. If you are not breastfeeding, you'll want some supportive sports bras on hand for packing your boobs away until your milk stops coming in.
Make and freeze some food. I never got around to doing this, myself, but I wish I had. Steve and I are dreading the inevitable day we need to return to preparing our own food.
Buy all the paper towels in the world. Pee, poo, spitup, miscellaneous whatevers. You won't want to be running out for these. You can return to saving the planet once you've got your head together.