Surviving Your Child’s Hospital Stay

When you are expecting a child, you dream about the future and you worry about the what ifs. But the thing is, the what ifs we worry about are the common challenges kids face. What if my child isn’t walking by 1? What if my child is bullied? What if my child has an allergic reaction? We don’t tend to wonder about the less common scenarios.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. In the digital age, a BIG component of your “village” comes from online communities. Visiting parenting boards, you’ll find many (probably too many) posts asking about rashes, the normal color of poop, whether a fever is high enough to warrant a trip to the nearest hospital’s emergency department. And just like the questions, the advice will vary dramatically.

Source: Reddit, Shit Mom Groups Say

As great as parenting groups can be, and as helpful as parenting sites can be, there are some subjects that aren’t discussed often, and maybe not ever depending on the make up of your group. I for one have never seen anything ever asked or shared about what to pack if your child is going to the hospital. We talk all the time about what to pack when you deliver a child, but we don’t talk about what to bring to the hospital when your child is admitted. I would like to think this is because it’s not very common, but having stayed with my children multiple times in a dedicated children’s hospital that reports 9,000 visits a year, I can tell you children are staying in hospitals more often than we think. I want to help close the information gap. As Liam Neeson’s character in Taken said, “… I do have are a very particular set of skills. Skills I have acquired over a very long career.”

I have logged a lot of days and nights in hospitals with my children. If you have a child who is facing a hospital admission, you have a lot on your mind and one of the things you might not be thinking about is packing for your child’s stay. So I present to you, a list I hope you find useful for your child’s hospital stay.
For Your Child:

  • Pajamas. How much and how many will depend on your child’s age and the reason s/he is being admitted. Keep in mind, if your child is having surgery, the surgery site will be examined often by nurses, attending doctors, and surgeons. You want to keep this site easily accessible. A lot of the time, a hospital gown will be your best bet in those early days. But if your child is being admitted for a treatment, (e.g., chemotherapy) you will have more use for regular pajamas. Additionally, your child’s regular pajamas will provide a layer of comfort to the experience. I recommend pajamas with short sleeves to make it easier for nursing staff to access and assess IV sites. If your child is a tot, I also recommend bringing tops that are a size bigger than what your child normally wears. Hospital stays can mean monitoring wires. While the wires themselves aren’t terribly cumbersome, most pajamas for young children are tight fitting because it’s safer in the event of a fire. However in the hospital, a tight top + monitoring wires = toddler crop top.
  • Robe. Regardless of why your child is going to the hospital, a robe is always a good idea. Even if wearing pajamas from home isn’t feasible, a robe will work. IV lines can follow the arm up to the shoulder and exit from the neck of the robe—all without disconnecting and reconnecting. Additionally a robe will provide your child with warmth (hospitals are freezing year round) and a layer of privacy/modesty because hospital gowns, even when tied aren’t guaranteed to cover all butts, and they can be very thin. Added bonus, robes are easier to use as a cover than blankets when traveling in the hospital via a wheelchair.
  • Socks. Hospitals are cold. Period. End of story. It’s better to pack the socks and not need them than to be stuck wearing scratchy hospital-issued non slip socks. If your child has socks with grippy bottoms, that is best, but if not, just make sure your child has some shoes that are easy on and off for when it’s time to walk around the unit or to walk to the scale to be weighed.
  • Favorite lovie. For a really young child, this goes without saying. But for your elementary school-aged child, it might be a nice touch of comfort. The hospital can be scary, and something soft and familiar to snuggle is nice.
  • Going home clothes. Duh. I knew you would know this because I, unlike your 4th grader, don’t think you are dumb. This item is here to highlight that your child’s going home clothes should be compatible with your child’s recovery. For example:
    • Knees after surgery are bandaged quite thickly and loose athletic pants or shorts (mostly shorts) will be the easiest to pass over that spot.
    • Bellies, particularly after abdominal surgeries are tender, so avoid items with stiff waists or thick elastic. Pick something loose and comfortable.
    • Heads after surgery might be bothered by shirts passing over, so shirts that have loose necklines or ones that button all the way up are likely better choices.

For You

Here is the meat and potatoes of my post. Why? When your child is the patient, a lot of necessities will be provided to him/her. You as the parent staying bedside will need a lot more items to make it through the stay.

  • Clothes. Again, hospitals are notoriously cold. I don’t care if it is 95 degrees outside, pack like it is fall. Long pants, socks, and layered tops. For me, my standard hospital attire includes leggings, tank tops, soft sweaters (especially ones with pockets), and fuzzy socks. I bring the same items in January as I do in July. The goal is to be comfortable and warm.
  • Slip-on shoes. You want something easy off and easy on. Flip flops, sport sandals, Crocs™, and mules are great for hospital life. So are slippers with hard soles.
  • Toiletries. This one should be common sense. Pack your toothbrush and deodorant in the very least. You want to pack light but it will not hurt to be prepared. Dry shampoo and cleaning cloths are always useful. In my experience, your child’s hospital will have a shower you can use. However the water won’t be super warm, the water pressure might be iffy, and the water flow may not leave your scalp feeling like it’s super clean. Additionally, if your child is transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), our you are in a small hospital, or an older hospital, that shower will be shared with other families.
  • Moisturizer. Hospitals are not only cold, but they are dry. Your lips and hands will thank me if you remember to pack a lip balm and a hand lotion, and your face will thank me if you pack a moisturizer.
  • Chargers. In this digital age of entertainment and connectivity, bring charging cords and wall cubes. You’ll be sorry if you don’t have them for in-room charging. If you do forget them, fear not, many hospitals offer charging stations. Forgetting these items just means more time away from your child to sit next to a charging station. If you have a wireless charger, it’s never a bad idea to pack a charging cord as a back up. My wireless charger has a tendency to randomly stop working while staying in the hospital.
    • Similarly, bring additional devices for longer stays – a laptop, a tablet, etc. It will only help you occupy your time while your child is occupied with sleep or surgery.
  • Travel coffee mug. If you don’t drink coffee are you even a parent? Kidding, my husband has been off coffee for a few years. I, like every meme you’ve ever seen about mothers, rely on coffee to be my all important crutch that gets me through the day, the week, the month, the year…my life. Some hospitals will have free coffee available to parents. Other hospitals will only have coffee available for purchase. In either scenario, a travel mug will only keep your coffee warmer longer. Plus they are more sturdy than paper or foam cups.
  • Water bottle or reusable straw cup with a lid. See the previous comment about being more sturdy than a paper or foam cup. You’ll want a cup with a lid because it will help keep germs out of your drink. And remember my comment about if your child needs to stay in the PICU? The intensive care floors may ONLY allow drinks in containers with lids.
  • Money. You’ll need food for yourself and whether it comes from the cafeteria, a chain inside the hospital (common in large urban hospitals) or a vending machine, you’ll be paying for it. Depending on where your hospital is located, delivery services may also be available.
    • For the large urban hospitals, you may also need to pay for parking. Some hospitals may validate parking for a parent staying with an admitted child, but it’s not a guarantee and multiple days add up quickly. So on this note, if you know you will stay more than a day or two, consider making arrangements to not have a car at the hospital for your entire stay.
  • Snacks. Depending on your child’s age and condition, you may not get too many opportunities to eat. Packing protein bars or quick snacks will make you feel like a genius. It also is helpful on the wallet too. Fewer snack trips to the gift shop, canteen, cafeteria, or vending machines.
  • Light reading. I recommend magazines instead of books because they are easier to pick up and put down. In the hospital people are constantly coming in and out of your child’s room. Nurses on average are coming in every two to four hours. Doctors come in and out on rounds, and depending on your child’s condition, you may have multiple services stopping in to see your child and answer your questions. So pick reading material you know will be easy for you to stop and start again.
  • Ear buds. This one is great if you have a young child who will fall asleep before you and who would be bothered by the sounds of TV or video streaming. Although come to think of it, earbuds are helpful if you have a preteen who watches hours upon hours of shows about kids in high school who don’t do anything you remember yourself doing at that age. Basically pack ear buds if your child will fall asleep before you, or if your child has terrible taste in TV.
  • Flashlight or battery powered dim light. The lights in hospital rooms are bright, really bright. If you have a child who will fall asleep before you and you would like to stay up to read, work, or maybe write a blog post; you are taking a huge risk by using the lights in the room. You will be safer and your child will be more likely to sleep if you have soft dim lighting instead of very bright fluorescent lights.
  • Pen. You never know when you will need to make a note of something, or when you will luck into a magazine with a crossword puzzle.
  • Reusable bag. This one could have many uses, but if your child’s admission is for a longer amount of time, e.g. more than three days, use this as a laundry bag. Kids puke, things spill, and if you live at the hospital with your child for weeks, you’ll run out of clean things to wear. I hope for you parents who are staying with your children for weeks, your child’s hospital provides laundry service to parents and families. I have washed laundry in the hospital more times than I care to recall, and it’s been a true blessing to have family laundry on every unit my kids have stayed.

Author: Momming Good Bad Ugly

Leslie is a stay at home mom of four - two girls and two boys, including a set of twins. In another life she worked in healthcare public affairs, and spent the her first seven years of motherhood working outside the home. Motherhood is nothing like she anticipated. She began writing again to both process the curve balls her children throw, and to drown out a decade's worth of animated programming.

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