What to Pack for Mastectomy Surgery — Hospital Bag Checklist

I made the mistake of asking Google “how long will you be in the hospital for a mastectomy” and was a little mortified by the inconsistencies in the results. Don’t do this. Instead, know that every situation is different depending on the type of surgery you will be having. “Mastectomy” has become such a blanket term, covering multiple different types of medical procedures – some of these are done on an outpatient basis, some may require a few days in the hospital after your surgery. Don’t ask Google. Ask your medical care team instead. 

Most people will stay in the hospital overnight after a mastectomy. If breast reconstruction is done, the stay may be longer, depending on the type of reconstruction. If you fall into this category, then this article is for you. If you’ve been told that you will be discharged the same day, just click here to get to the key items that will make your recovery a little more bearable.

Now to the strategy of packing your hospital bag for mastectomy surgery… 

First and foremost – pack for comfort. 

hospital stay pack for comfortAfter your surgery, the simplest things like lifting your arms above your head, or managing buttonholes, might be a little challenging. You will want to bring comfy clothes that allow you to dress without help from a nurse or family member. 

You will also have JP Drains after surgery. Having to pin these to your shirt or bra can be a major frustration and demoralizing. 

After my double mastectomy I was told to bring one of my husband’s button down shirts, shoe laces and safety pins for the drains. I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through that again. That is why I developed our healincomfort recovery shirt. It is a lightweight, soft-as-feathers, easy to wear shirt that you can put on immediately after your surgery that will help you feel more like yourself. Additionally, with the four internal pockets, you will be able to securely manage your drains while keeping them out of sight. 

Don’t forget your hygiene. 

Pack some items that can help you feel clean without showering. Showering may be off-limits for days after surgery, but hospitals typically provide soap, washcloths, and hand sanitizer. You might want to bring your own baby wipes for freshening up. Bring a hair brush, hair ties (for long hair), dry shampoo, and possibly a headband for keeping unwashed hair under control.

Some Things to Remember:

  • On the day of your surgery, do not apply deodorant/antiperspirant, lotions, creams, makeup, powder, perfume, or cologne after your shower.
  • If you wear contact lenses, wear your glasses instead. After surgery, raising your arms to put your contacts in is going to be very unpleasant. Skip that discomfort and sport your specks instead.
  • Do not wear any metal objects. Remove all jewelry, including body piercings. The tools used during your surgery can cause burns if they touch metal.
  • Leave valuable items at home.
  • If you’re menstruating , use a sanitary pad, not a tampon. You’ll get disposable underwear, as well as a pad if needed.
  • If you suffer from sleep apnea and use a breathing device (such as a CPAP machine), bring it. Your rest after surgery is important.

Comfort is King, Queen!

Bring your goddess robe and fuzzy slippers. After you get situated in your room, you’ll be wearing that gawd-awful hospital gown. That’s enough to sink even the highest spirit. So it’s helpful to have extra accouterments that will make you comfortable.

A soft, comfortable robe will allow you the freedom to walk the halls without accidentally showing your moon to the other patients. That privacy is a layer of protection that you can wrap yourself in.

Just about all hospitals will offer you a pair of non-slip socks. But nothing prevents you from bringing your own or doing it one step better by bringing a pair of comfortable – dare we say – fuzzy – house slippers. Most likely, you’re going to be stuck in this place for a day or two. Might as well make yourself as cozy as possible, right? Bonus: slippers are important because they keep you warm on cold floors (especially in the winter), and they make less noise than sneakers when walking around the hospital at night or early in the morning when others are sleeping.

Pack a little bit of makeup.

Pack some makeup — just in case. If you’re feeling up to it, packing a little bit of makeup can be helpful to feel more like yourself. After my surgery, the first thing I did was apply my favorite shade of red lipstick. It was one thing I could do immediately to remind myself of who I was. It can also be a small comfort for your partner or family member who will be with you during recovery.

Bring an eye mask or ear plugs to help you sleep.

If you have to stay overnight, it may be difficult to fall – and stay – asleep. Nurses do an amazing job day after day but it seems that their main job during the night is to find any and every excuse to disturb your rest. Bringing an eye mask and ear plugs can help. An eye mask blocks out light from your eyes, which helps you get some shut-eye if the lights are turned on while you’re sleeping. And the ear plugs might just save your sanity if you have to share a room or are staying in a busy ward of the hospital. 

Comfort foods.

You may not feel like eating, but if you pack some snacks and keep them on hand, you’re less likely to get too hungry and give in to the nausea that can come with surgery. Snacks also provide much-needed energy and nutrition. If your hospital stay is more than one day, packing snacks can help you avoid overeating when it’s time to eat—and overeating is a common side effect of many chemo drugs.

Some people find that a little chocolate or other sweet treat helps them feel better during their hospital stay, so if you’re one of those people: bring it!

Bring your favorite pillow.

There is nothing worse than having to play Goldilocks with a strange pillow. Your rest during recovery is too important to take any chances with a pillow being too firm or flat for you to comfortably sleep. Bring your’s from home. Pillows are great for helping you sleep and feel more comfortable. They can also keep you warm, cool and relaxed. Also consider a pillow that supports your arm so it doesn’t get in the way of any bandages or equipment.

Pack a notebook and pen. 

A notebook and pen are an essential part of your hospital bag. You may want to use this time to write down any questions you have, or even just jot down a few notes during your hospital stay as you’re recuperating at home and trying to remember what medications were prescribed for you or where to take off for physical therapy. It’s also helpful if you have any other information on hand that could help during this time, such as medical history, family contact information and so on.

Prepare for chapped lips.

General anesthesia can result in some mild side effects, including chapped lips and dry mouth. Go in prepared for this by bringing a lip balm or moisturizer. Stick to the unflavored variety as a safeguard against any nausea caused by the anesthesia. 

Pack some entertainment to help pass the time – and to keep you sane.

Laying in a hospital bed before and after surgery may make you feel like a little caged bird going stir crazy. As the saying goes… “An idle mind is the devil’s playground.” Too much time just sitting there may make you start to go down your very own mental “doom spiral”. Not good. To be avoided at all costs! 

For those times when there are no distractions by friends and family, when the doctors and nurses graciously leave you alone, you will need some healthy escapism. 

Now, we’re all fond of a good endless scroll down a social media rabbit hole to pass the time and that might be enough to get you through the monotony, but how about something that doesn’t rot your brain?

Books and Magazines

Bring yourself a book or two – something that is pure escapism – like a bawdy romance novel, a crime thriller or some fantasy. Diving head-long into a good novel is a great way to pass the time and to escape the dull, drab, sterile surroundings you find yourself in. 

Indulge your hobbies and passions with a handful of good magazines that will unleash your creativity. If you are a fashion diva, then bring your favorite fashion rags to help plan your post-mastectomy style. If cooking is your passion, then bring some culinary magazines to help plan your next big dinner party spread. Whatever your passion is, there are magazines that will help to engage you momentarily and take your mind out of the present and place it firmly into a future where you see yourself whole, healed and thriving!

Create your ultimate healing playlist!

Hospital Bag Checklist Create your ultimate healing playlistThere is a song for everything and for everything there is a song. Music can lift us while it keeps us grounded and centered. It can transport us while it bares our soul open. It can empower us, strengthen us and bring us comfort. The right song at the right time is true magic. Highly recommended the time spent putting together a good playlist on your phone to help you pass the time. 4-out-of-4 for this one! 

Here are three Spotify playlists to get you started:

Women’s Empowerment Playlist:
From Lizzo to Joan Jett, a power playlist filled with empowering female artists put

Breakup Playlist:
The perfect songs to jam out to for every type of split

Breast Cancer Battle Cry:
Songs to feel like the bad ass Amazonian breast cancer warrior you are!


“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ― Maya Angelou

Brain games, Puzzle Books and Coloring Books

Yes, we’re grown-ass adults, but playtime is important – especially when we’re stuck in a room with nothing but our thoughts to keep us company. Having a good sudoku or crossword puzzle book to help pass the time and keep your mind occupied can be great therapy.  

Plan ahead for your ride home. 

Make sure you have pillows ready to go before you leave the hospital. Place small pillows in the car so you’ll have them to place under the seat belt that goes across your chest and over your lap.

Your ride home will be much more comfortable if you have a place to rest your head and chest. Place small pillows under your seat belt so that it rests on the pillow instead of your chest and lap, respectively. A few more small pillows will help to prop up your knees and feet while they’re resting in their lap supports, too.

You will be leaving the hospital after your mastectomy looking a little like a science experiment. You will have at least one, if not more, JP Drains protruding your body to help manage the swelling as a result of your surgery. Be sure to bring either a recovery bra, drain management belt, or specialized recovery shirt with drain pockets so that you can keep these new appendages out of your way!

A comforter or blanket can also be very helpful for keeping warm, especially if you’re headed out into cold weather or want extra protection from drafts during travel or when resting at home after surgery.

It is important to both your mental and physical recovery to keep yourself comfortable during your hospital stay. Packing all of this may feel a little overkill but you are worth it. The investment in the right pillow, recovery shirt,or robe are investments that will last you not just during your hospital stay but throughout your entire recovery process.

Preparing for DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction?
Beth DeLong, from Adventure After Cancer has a great article on the prep work that needs to be done before your DIEP surgery.


To your health, recovery, and comfort. You got this!


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