A frequent question I hear from clients or prospective clients is, “What do you bring in your doula bag? What tricks do you keep in there”? It seems the “doula bag” has been elevated in the birth doula world to some revered status, as if some mystical substance and amazing products reside in there, objects that surely will be important during labor.
Truth be told–and this may be disappointing to some, there isn’t anything mythical or incredible in my doula bag. Not anymore. When I first started this work 10 years ago, I carried a duffle bag that was so stuffed with things, it probably weighed 30 lbs and rivaled what some folks would take with them for a week long trip to the North Carolina coast. The more experienced I became at doula support, the more I realized, I rarely used anything in it. I didn’t need to. I’ll explain more on that in a minute.
My trusty Ikea Upptacka birth bag. It’s been to a lot of births!
So what is in my rolling Ikea doula backpag/bag? Here’s the scoop on what’s inside:
A change of clothes-You only have to be thoroughly splashed by amniotic fluid once, to learn you need to keep a complete change of clothes (including socks and shoes) on standby in your doula bag.
Breath mints or chewing gum–Because we are so often very close to your face, breathing in rhythm with you, reassuring you, we want our breath to be minty fresh! I keep a large supply of Trader Joe’s brand breath mints or Trident peppermint chewing gum in the outer pocket of my doula bag.
Something special for the nurses-We have some amazing nurses in our community, who work HARD. I try to carry a little something special, whether chocolate or cookies, for the wonderful nurses in our local hospitals and birth centers.
Flameless tea lights and strands of Christmas lights–Because ambience matters, right? We like to set the birth mood, and create a calming atmosphere for our clients while they are in labor. We dim the lights, and put up little flameless tea lights around the room. One of my favorite things to do, is surprise our clients by sneaking into the bathroom at the hospital or birth center, and stringing up a couple of strands of Christmas lights. The bathroom (which is one of the most fabulous places to labor, by the way) can then be utilized in dim, pretty lights, instead of the harsh fluorescent overhead lights.
FOOD--Notice this is capitalized? As the famous quote says, “You can’t pour from an empty cup”. As your constant support in labor, we try to stay hydrated and fed, to the best of our ability. Often, this means cramming a string cheese in as fast we can in the bathroom, or grabbing quick bites of a protein bar in between contractions. Food helps keep us sustained, and I like to bring plenty of snacks, as there often is not time to leave your side to eat a full meal.
Massage lotion–I bring in various scents of different lotions, and ask the birthing person to choose the scent they would like to use. As I do A LOT of massage, this is one of the most used items.
Kneeling pads–these are used by our clients, and ourselves or other support people. Clients often find themselves laboring in positions on the floor, and these pads keep their knees (and the support people’s knees) comfortable.
Ponytail holders-Hair gets wild in labor, and if you forget your ponytail elastics, we’ve got you covered.
As I mentioned before, in my early years of doula-ing, I brought a laundry list of supplies and books along with me. The age of iphones and Kindles has made looking up information from a favorite doula book easy peasy, and eliminated the need to carry my well worn and much loved copy of The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. I never used the myriad of massage tools I purchased for each individual client; my hands were always preferred. I learned to make do with the supplies available at the hospital or birth center. A glove can easily be made into an ice pack, a favorite nurse showed me how two steamed towels and two chux pads and a little bit of tape could make a heat pack. We are fortunate that our hospitals have birthing balls and peanut balls for patients to use, so it was not necessary to bring those. A bed sheet can be a rebozo. What I learned the most was that I didn’t need a birth bag full of fancy tricks and items. What’s NOT in a doula bag is what’s important. It’s the education, training, experience, laughter, positive attitude, words of calmness and reassurance, the hands that hold your head or your hands, (or even the vomit basin!) the shoulder to lean and sway on…it’s all of those things that we bring with us that helps us help you on your labor and birth journey. The rest is simply non-essential extras and niceties. Well, except maybe the food.
As always, happy birthing!