Every doula will tell you that the most important thing she can bring to a birth is her heart, her hands, and her loving presence. But we also carry a doula “bag of tricks” to help comfort, guide, and facilitate labor as needed. Sometimes I use everything in my bag, and sometimes just a few things, and in those super fast births, sometimes I don’t even get to unzip the bag!
I recently added some new additions to my bag, and thought I would share some of the tools that help support birthing people along their journey.
Rebozo: A rebozo is a long, woven garment, like a shawl, that originated in Mexico and has many uses. In birth, we use it for helping guide baby into position like with rebozo sifting, or abdominal lifting; or just for comfort, like to support a hip squeeze. One of my favorite uses is to tie it with a knot at the end and throw it over the hospital bathroom door. Shutting the door firmly and with the long end hanging into the room, a woman can pull onto it with arms extended up while she squats to move the baby down.
Massage tools: To be honest, I mostly use my hands while massaging, but I have a variety of massage tools (the plastic one in the center is new!) to help in different situations, and to help make it easier for partners to participate. I have a few tennis balls in my bag that can be placed into a long tube sock with a knot at the end. Massage is a wonderful way to help relieve the tension that can occur from our body’s natural resistance to contractions and the anxiety that can be part of the labor process. In addition, touch releases endorphins and oxytocin which help facilitate the labor progress.
Massage oil: No one likes friction during a massage! I have both lavender massage oil and coconut oil to make the work of massage easier on the hands and more comfortable for the client. I use this a lot on the lower back and sacrum, but also massage shoulders, backs, bottoms, legs, hands and feet.
LED Candles and White Lights: It may at first seem silly to focus on the ambiance in the birthing location, but setting the mood can make a big difference in how calm and focused you feel. We like to forget that we are mammals, but mammals like to birth in dark, cozy, comfortable spaces–the opposite of what most hospital rooms are like! One of my first tasks is often setting up the space in the room, dimming or turning off lights, turning on candles, plugging in twinkle lights and turning on my diffuser for essential oils.
Essential oils: There are many essential oils that can be used for birth, but my favorites are–
Lavender: Generally pleasing to most people, it promotes relaxation and calm.
Lemon: Citrus scents can be great to awaken and invigorate you when fatigue starts to set in. Also great at masking generic hospital smells.
Peppermint: This one is also great for re-energizing, but I most often use it to combat feelings of nausea. Place 1-3 drops on a cotton ball and hold it close to the mom’s nose to smell when she is feeling like she might vomit. Post-birth, if peeing is difficult, a few drops of peppermint oil in the toilet can help encourage the urge to pee to return.
Clary sage: This oil is a uterine tonic and can help to stimulate stronger contractions, if needed. I apply this oil to mom’s belly and soles of feet, diluted with a carrier oil (such as the coconut oil).
*When using EOs place it on a cotton ball or washcloth, something that can be removed if the smell becomes overpowering to a laboring person. I do diffuse oils in the air, but it’s always important to ask first. I occasionally apply to skin in a therapeutic manner, and when applying to skin, always dilute the EO with a carrier oil first.
Fan: Labor is hard work and makes you very hot, especially during pushing. Fanning can be a great way to help cool down.
Snacks: I always tell clients to pack bags filled with snacks, because food can be scarce at 3 am! Easy to eat, protein filled snacks like bars, nut butter packets, and trail mix, along with applesauce packets, juices, and other favorite munchies can help energize a longer labor (especially for partners). At a certain point the birthing mom no longer is interested in eating, but we try to keep her energy up any way we can. Which brings me to…
Honey Packets: After many hours of labor, the body needs quick energy and honey packets or honey sticks can be a quick infusion of sugar to help her continue to power through.
Rice Sock: In the lower right corner of the photo is my rice sock, which is a men’s tube sock filled with uncooked rice and covered with cozier socks. This can be placed in a microwave for a minute or two and holds heat for 30 minutes or more. It can be placed on the low back or sacrum, on the hips, on the shoulders–anywhere there is tension and discomfort and the heat and weight can help remind the mom to relax and release.
Mirror: This is used for clients that may want to see what’s happening as they push their baby out. While most hospitals have larger mirrors that can be wheeled into the room, it’s nice to have a handheld version for either those last minute requests, or for motivation if initially the mom was resistant to viewing, but then needs it to get to that final push!
The Labor Progress Handbook: Sometimes (always?!) birth surprises you and can take any number of twists and turns. This book is like a trouble shooting manual for a variety of scenarios, and can be helpful when you’ve already tried a bunch of techniques and need new ideas (especially in a sleep-deprived state!).
Not shown: Also in my bag are a change of clothes for me (in case I get splashed with fluid or need to head straight from a birth to a personal event), an inflatable camping pillow (for resting more comfortably), toothbrush, deodorant, and toiletries. And I always bring a water bottle and more fresh snacks.
As for the bag itself, it’s a small wheely suitcase, as I find that that’s easier to use and maneuver than carrying all of this in a backpack on my back. Though truthfully, I’m always on the lookout for the “perfect” bag.
If you are doula, what do you carry in your bag? Have I left out anything important? Please share in the comments!
I’m just at the beginning, so I don’t have most of this things! I’ve learnt a lot!
This is wonderful! A few details I didn’t think so of yet! Thank you! ✨
I am interested in becoming a Doula, thanks for sharing. Interesting. I am learning a lot.
I am interested in becoming a Doula. Thanks for sharing.
I am on chapter 5 of my doula training. This was very helpful! Thank you for sharing.
I’m a pretty new doula:) I keep a small room humidifier in my bag that doubles as essential oil diffuser. It gets so dry in hospital rooms! Thank you for your article!
Best of luck on your doula journey Marla! And a humidifier/diffuser is a great idea!
I’m just starting out. A small towel for compress is something I plan on having in my bag. A small notepad for jotting down any notes/thoughts.
Also an eye mask for sleeping if there’s down time when the birthing mama is getting rest.
I actually have added this to my bag! But instead of using it for myself, I often give it to clients! 😉
Thanks for sharing.
Midwife and Birth Doula.