What's in the Doula Bag?
When I first started out as a Doula, I packed everything but the kitchen sink in my birth bag. I had books, massage tools, and a bunch of other things I can’t even remember now. Along with all the stuff I had, I also picked up wish list items whenever I could. Things like specialized acupressure tools sworn to save my hands, and little trinkets with goo in them that were meant to help distract a mom from contractions. (Yes, you can laugh at that last one!)
As you might have guessed, I realized after the very first birth I attended that my bag of tricks was not only unnecessary, but a little wasteful and hard to carry around. So I’ve ditched most of it. I have come to realize that the most important tools I carry in my work as a Doula don’t come in a package.
My hands soothe with massages, cool touches to the forehead, pressure in just the right spots. My words can be the light in someone’s darkest moment, their hope, a reminder of their own strengths and desires. My logic can lower the tension in a situation. My calm presence can help still a moment of panic. My tools come from the heart first. Anyone who tells you that you “need” this or that or the other thing to be a good birth attendant, is probably benefiting from the sale.
There are a few things that I have found to be incredibly useful tools, but I do not use them at every single birth. At some births, I may use almost all of them, others I will barely touch my bag. Just as every person on the planet is unique, every mother navigates birth in her own way. Here’s some things that might be useful, and what situations I have found them to be helpful for.
Massage Oil or Lotion
You can use massage in any stage of labor, all over the body. Firm strokes across the back, anchoring hand or foot massages, or effleurage on the arms or shoulders are all incredible for relaxation during labor. To aid in massage, use unscented lotion or a base oil such as coconut or sweet almond.
Birth balls are amazing for bouncing on, rocking, placing on top of the hospital bed to stand next to and lean on, or resting your chest and arms while on your knees to let your belly relax. They can be used throughout labor to aid in positioning, so if you want to use one at home make sure to purchase one ahead of time.
Create playlists for labor, usually I suggestion one for relaxing/rest phases and one that's energizing for active labor. Music can help to relax you and help you stay active during times you may feel tense. A small bluetooth speaker will be useful if you plan on music during labor. Here's some songs that have been favorites of my clients!
As Sure As The Sun - Ellie Holcomb
Whatever It Takes - Imagine Dragons
Sunrise - Norah Jones
Follow the Sun - Xavier Rudd
Hallelujah - Kate Voegele
Could You Be Loved - Bob Marley
Mother Song - Krishna Das
Let's Get it On - Marvin Gaye
Fidelity - Regina Spektor
I Got You - Jack Johnson
1, 2, 3, 4 - Feist
Breathe (2 AM) - Anna Nalick
Hot and cold packs can be applied directly to the area of discomfort. Heat therapy seems to be most effective, but rotate in ice packs to increase the effectiveness and avoid burning the skin. You are experiencing a lot of sensations and may not notice right away if it's too hot. For a frugal DIY heat pack, fill a sock with rice, tie off the opening, and pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds to a minute.
Essential oils can be used as a comfort measure for scent, and for practical application. Some essentials oils are said to have special properties, such as Black Pepper Oil. It is said to decrease the pain of back labor very effectively. Others, like Clary Sage, are said to increase the strength and frequency of contractions. Most diffusers have light settings and different mist settings, so they are a great option. I have also set out a small cup of water with a few drops of essential oils in it to use for scent.
*I do not recommend using essential oils during labor unless you have previous experience or have consulted with an herbalist.
Rebozo sifting the abdomen is one of the most effective ways to relax the belly muscles. It's gentle and helps the baby move into the most optimum position, as well as assists you in relaxing between contractions. You can also use the rebozo for hanging or danging positions, holding heat or cold packs in place, blocking out light and sounds, and much more. Here’s a link to a chart that demonstrates more options. In a pinch a flat sheet can be used in the same way, but it won’t be as easy to use because the fabric is tight and not woven as with traditional rebozos.
Odds and Ends
A few thoughtful things in my bag aren’t as essential as those listed above, but can really make a difference in someone’s comfort level. Along with the things here, you might have washcloths on hand for cooling relief to the forehead and a comb to brush her hair back.
I love comfort measures, they are wonderful to help you refocus, eliminate pain, or ease stress. However, you should do whatever is instinctive to you. What works for you can change quickly as you go through the stages of labor. Some women plan on comfort measures throughout their entire pregnancy that they end up disliking once active labor gets started! When you're unsure what to do, listen to your body.