In Case of Emergency: What to Pack in Your Child’s Hospital Bag

A little over a year ago, I noticed my daughter was breathing a little heavier than usual during a bad cold.  I’m a nurse, so I pulled out my stethoscope and gave her lungs a listen. I heard wheezes. Healthcare professionals will know, it doesn’t matter how many times you have heard those noises professionally, it’s different when you hear them in your own child. In the hospital, I would have said, “Oh, it sound like you might need a breathing treatment, let me call a respiratory therapist to come take a listen.”

But, it’s hard to remain objective with your own child, and my heart started to race. After a few seconds of initial panic, I took a breath, calmed down, and called the pediatrician (it was a weekday during normal business hours). We got an appointment right away, and after a couple of breathing treatments, we were sent home with an inhaler and a plan to continue to monitor for asthma symptoms.

After a few more episodes like these, we were given a diagnosis of Viral Induced Asthma.

The initial panic I felt with this first episode was nothing compared to our first drive to the Emergency Department, when my sweet girl was working really hard to breathe properly. We ran out the door, in our pajamas, and I barely remembered to grab my purse. I probably would have forgotten the car keys, if I didn’t need them to drive my car.

Thankfully, I have never had anything other than an excellent experience at the Children’s Hospital Colorado campus near me. They provided us with everything we needed, but I still wanted to be more prepared for future visits, and there were future visits.  I started compiling a list of things I thought we would need if we ended up back at the Emergency Department, and after a little more experience, I knew what I needed to bring with me to the hospital.

The blessing of Viral Induced Asthma is that the symptoms always start shortly after the beginning of respiratory illness, so it’s easy for us to be prepared. As long as we keep on top of her asthma regimen, she won’t often develop any asthma symptoms, but because I know we could end up needing to visit the hospital or urgent care, I just go ahead a pack a hospital bag whenever she is sick, just in case.

It’s important to note that in the event of an urgent emergency, the stuff isn’t important.  Keeping your child safe and healthy is priority number one.  Forget the stuff, you can call a friend or relative to bring what you need, or the hospital will provide you with essentials, but if you have a few minutes to put a few things in a bag before you leave, these are the things I have found most helpful.

A list of medications and medical history

Under normal circumstances, I can list my daughter’s full medical history and medications off the top of my head.  At 4:00 in the morning, when I’ve been up all night with a sick child, I have trouble remembering my own middle name.  A list is a must for me in these circumstances. 

I have omitted actual medications from this packing list, as most hospitals do not allow administration of home medications, unless a home medication is uncommon, in which case add it to the bag!

Insurance Card

I usually already have this in my wallet, but it’s good to check that it’s still there!

Tablet and charger

There have been a few times that we have ended up in a hospital room without a working television, and a tablet is also helpful for long waits in the waiting room. Yes, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits on screen time. Illness is the only time I completely ignore these limitations. I’ll take any distraction that works for my child when she is feeling awful, and I’ve yet to meet a pediatrician or medical professional that recommends taking this distraction away from my sick child.

Cell phone charger

We never know how long our Emergency Department stay may be, but it’s usually just long enough for a cell phone to run out of power. This is my connection to the outside world, and how I give updates to family. The Children’s Hospital satellite near me does have a courtesy charging station, if a charger is forgotten.

Hand sanitizer

There are some bad bugs in hospitals, let’s not bring any of them home with us!

Favorite stuffed animal

I learned this trick getting my ears pierced at Claire’s in the 90’s. Holding on tightly to a stuffed animal helps children stay still for medical procedure (as well as ear piercing). It also provides comfort so the hospital is less scary.

Comfy blanket

Hospitals are cold.  Sometimes they are busy and extra blankets are not available. My child is usually pretty miserable if we have to visit the Emergency Department and a nice blanket from home always gives a little extra comfort.

Change of clothes

Hospital visits sometimes include IVs, blood draws, vomiting, and other messy things. I’ve found it’s a good idea to bring a change of clothes to the hospital, so my child doesn’t have to wear any of these messes home. The hospital will provide a gown, but pjs from home are more comfortable. I try not to forget socks, underwear, warm slippers, and a comfortable sweater or hoodie, if I have time to be thorough in my packing.

Water bottle and snacks

Again, we never know how long a hospital visit will be. Even though hospitals usually have vending machines and their own stash of snacks they can provide, I always err on the side of “always being prepared.” If your child uses a special sippy cup or bottle, pack it! Fluids are so important during illness and most kids/infants are more likely to drink from a familiar container.

Don’t forget snacks and a water bottle for Mom and Dad, too!

As your child’s primary caregiver and advocate, it’s important to take care of yourself, as well! You’ve got an important job to do, so pack things to make sure you are fed and hydrated.

This completes my list of must have hospital items. By the way, everything I bring with me to the hospital gets a thorough washing and scrubbing and soon as we get home (because, germs).

We have only been dealing with asthma and hospital visits in my family for about a year and half, so I am still fairly new at this. I would love to hear what other experienced mamas are bringing to the hospital. What would you add to this list?

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