First, I would like to preface by saying I firmly believe in a birthing person’s ability to bring a baby into the world without a whole lot of (or any) “stuff.”
I never use all the contents of my bag, I often rely on one or two things, and I sometimes even forgo all of it. But, childbirth is full of surprises so I still like to be prepared for a variety of scenarios. I keep my own personal effects in a backpack and pack client items in a rolling bag or overnight duffel. I leave a lot of the bigger, non-essential items in my car “just in case.”
During pregnancy, we discuss your favorite methods of increasing oxytocin and managing big sensations, and if you’ve opted for prenatal meetings you’ll have the opportunity to try out some comfort tools to see what strikes your fancy.
Another worthy reminder: the most important “thing” a doula brings to a birth is not in her bag — it’s herself. A doula’s mind, heart, and hands are her primary support tools; they cannot be bought in a store! The emotional connection I have with birthing families is the true foundation of care. Plus, you can’t pack education and knowledge into a suitcase!
Now for what’s inside my bag(s) of labor support goodies…
This is my number one doula bag necessity. I can’t imagine making it through a birth without it — making it through smoothly, at least! There are so many great comfort measures and tricks we can try using rebozo, like hip squeezes, belly sifting, “shake the apple tree,” belly lift, supported squats, tug-of-war, and more classic labor standbys.
I like to slip these under a rebozo wrapped around mama’s hips for added sacral or hip pressure, which can feel heavenly. They can roll or press nicely on the lower back by themselves, too.
Speaking of exhaustion, constantly leaning over to sip from a water jug can get old real quick. Because you’ll need to stay hydrated and drinking often, a bendy straw is a game-changer for all the muscles you’d otherwise be straining as you lean over and over again. I know it sounds silly, but just trust me on this.
I like my heating pad because it charges directly into the wall (wireless when charged), the battery life is fabulous, and it’s more hygienic than a reheated rice sock as the cover can be easily washed and sanitized.
A set of battery-operated, warm glow lights can really enhance the intimacy in a room and set the safe, calm mood we want. With the flip of a few switches, we go from a sterile, clinical setting to a twinkling birth nest in minutes.
I prefer to mostly use my hands, and encourage partners to do so as well, but with a longer labor sometimes massage tools can be really helpful for avoiding exhaustion as I work. Plus massage rollers, stress balls, and scalp massagers can feel really nice.
Organic Massage Oil
Unless you’re in water, massage oil is a must so your skin doesn’t get irritated when rubbed. If bringing your own, make sure it has non-toxic and pregnancy-safe ingredients. A neutral scent is ideal.
This is kind of a lifesaver for some laborers working through transition. The comb hits acupressure points in your hand when squeezed, rendering pain sensations essentially “blocked” (for more info on this look into Gate Theory of Pain). Thanks, reflexology!
I like my pretty oriental style, faux silk and bamboo hand fan because it’s not noisy like the battery-operated ones, and it’s a much more relaxing experience having your flush, hot face fanned for that reason.
My favorites to use are Peppermint, Lavender, Clary Sage, Geranium, and Sweet Orange; each is effective for different purposes when used properly and safely. I also have other popular ones like Ylang-Ylang, Chamomile, Frankincense, Lemon and more, which I carry upon client’s request.
Cotton Balls & Alcohol Pads
I don’t recommend diffusing essential oils in the birth space because it’s possible that a scent you love in early labor will nauseate you several hours later, for example. It’s best to have a way to get rid of the smell quickly in case your body decides to suddenly reject it, so a few drops on a cotton ball or clean wash cloth will do the trick. As for the alcohol pads, a quick whiff can help alleviate nausea.
This is a cooling fabric that can be applied to your forehead or fully unrolled to wrap around your shoulders or back. Ah, sweet refreshing relief!
Hair Ties / Headbands
Because hair falling into your face and getting sticky with sweat is no fun!
Pair of Socks
Let’s face it, hospital socks aren’t very cute and you probably forgot to bring your own cozy pair. No worries, I’ve got you and your chilly feet covered.
For Labor Progress
Face Mask & Ear Plugs
Overstimulation can cause anxiety, stalled progress, and discomfort. A face mask helps shut out excess visual stimuli. As a bonus, it serves as a sort of “Come Back Later” sign: you’ll appear to be resting so nurses and other birth attendants are less likely to bug you. Ear plugs help dull bothersome sounds like side chatter or repeated footsteps thudding in and out of the labor room.
Birth Affirmation Cards
These are fun, inspiring, and motivating! I love my set from Renegade Mama. If you feel especially attached to a certain affirmation card in labor, I like to copy and laminate it as a postpartum gift.
Sometimes it helps encourage progress during pushing stage if you can see some of your baby’s beautiful, hairy head — yes, it’s really happening, you’re really this strong, and you’re really doing this! You may think you don’t want to get a peek at baby’s face once it’s born (which is just dandy if you don’t, of course), but maybe you’ll change your mind. I’ve got a mirror in case you do. (Easily sterilized stainless steel, in case you were wondering!).
Random Little Things
When a birth affirmation, birth plan, or photographs need affixing to a surface, sticky tape to the rescue! It’s also perfect when you need to stick a marble to the floor (acupressure trick — look it up!).
All that hard work and deep breathing can make your lips feel dry, which can feel uncomfortable enough that it becomes a distraction. I bring several flavors of lip balm — all organic, vegan, and cruelty-free.
Dry mouth is a common complaint in labor, so I offer a lollipop to encourage saliva production. It’s also nice to have a different taste in your mouth, especially if you’ve been restricted to ice chips for hours on end.
Organic Agave Sticks
Maybe you’re at the hospital and adhering to a “no food” policy, or you feel too nauseous to eat. These tasty treats provide a quick boost of energy and calories when you’re starting to drag.
An easy way to keep your Hep-lock dry if you want to hop in the shower.
Sometimes Needed or Wanted
If you’re queasy during transport to the birth place, an emesis bag can keep your car clean. It’s on the “sometimes” list because I most often meet clients at the birth place, which is typically stocked with emesis bags, so the occasion of need has passed.
Birth Ball / Peanut Ball
I have a small collection from which clients may borrow, but can’t guarantee I’ll have one available when the need arises. I urge all clients to invest in one of their own (all the prenatal hip circles!). You may not need to bring it to your birth place as most hospitals and birth centers have a few. However, the supply is limited and I have seen the Labor & Delivery floor run out. If you’re dead-set on using the ball in labor, bring your own to avoid the worry (store it in the car until you need it as they’re unwieldy to lug around).
Because it’s usually when you need a pump the most that you don’t have a pump! Waiting on hospital staff to bring a pump is an act of patience I prefer to sidestep.
Portable Bluetooth Speaker
As most people bring their own device, or their birth place provides a noise machine / music player, I only bring this if a client mentions they can’t. Relaxing tunes can serve as a very welcome distraction to sweep you into the oxytocin-flooded depths of labor land.
Birth Boot Camp Relaxation & Visualization Booklet
I give this to some clients (depending on what package they chose) to practice the relaxation exercises throughout pregnancy. If they don’t have a copy of their own and want to try some visualizations in labor, I’m happy to bring my copy.
I offer to take non-professional photos or video if desired, with the understanding that my primary role is emotionally and physically supporting you. If your heart is attached to getting certain shots that also look amazing, please invest in hiring a professional birth photographer!
Garden Kneeling Pad
This adds comfort while laboring in the shower in some positions. It’s also useful for me or a birth partner to use while assisting with hands-on comfort measures.
Don’t fixate on this too much, but I’ve gotta say, hospital floors are yucky. You’ll be more inclined to move freely and assume different positions if you have a clean surface to do so.
Inflatable Travel Pillow
If we’re expecting a labor and/or birth in the bathtub, this can help you feel more comfortable against the hard tub surface. Some suggest simply covering a normal pillow with a garbage bag, but I think this is more sanitary (easy to clean!) and much more visually appealing, which you won’t regret when looking back on photos.
Bonus: TENS Unit
I don’t have one yet (as of Jan. 2020), but this is on my To Purchase list and I’m excited to be able to offer this comfort measure to future clients.
Birth Worker’s Personal Effects
If you’re a birth worker seeking ideas of what to pack in your personal bag, I’ve made a list to adapt to your liking:
- Birth Boot Camp DOULAS reference book
- Client folder with several copies of birth plan
- Extra business cards
- Hand sanitizer and/or travel size castille soap
- Spare phone charger
- Thank You cards for the birth team (I prefer to send these later, but it’s nice to have a few on hand just in case)
Hygiene / Stay Fresh Items
- Toothbrush & paste
- Deodorant or underarm wipes
- Dry shampoo
- Face wipes
- Feminine products
- Hair brush
- Lip balm
- Small bag to carry things you’ll need when taking a break
- Spare cash/change for vending machines
- Driver’s license/ID card for checking into hospital
- Change of clothes & extra layer
- Blanket, if expecting a long hospital labor (or use theirs, but I get better rest with my own)
- Pen & small journal for labor notes
- A few large Ziploc bags to store dirty/wet things
- Spare shoes to wear home (put work shoes in a Ziploc bag after birth)
Nourishment / Health
- Vitamin C + multivitamin packets
- Caffeinated tea packets
- Reusable, lidded container for water
- Non-perishable, quick snacks
- Set of utensils
- Glasses & case
- I don’t take any medications, but if you do… bring them