You might see walking/running through a hospital, on my way to a birth, and think to yourself, what in the world does she have in that rolling suitcase? Or maybe you're a new doula starting out and are overwhelmed by all the 'tools' that you've been told you need to have in your bag. Yes, our doula bag is in investment, but there are no wrong answers as to what you 'need' to put inside yours.
I will start by saying that new and 'seasoned' doulas alike vary from one person to the next in what they carry to births, and there's a lot reasons for that. For some who've been doing it a long time, they feel they all have the tools they need on them to help a client at their birth, and pack very lightly for themselves, leaving it up to the client to bring tools they may need/want to use in their own labor. Other doulas carry lightly because they take public transportation to the hospital for births, or they live in a busy city and it's too risky to leave a bag full of stuff in their vehicle.
Other doulas, considered more 'new' in this field of birthwork, carry a variety of tools with them, always ready no matter what their client may need. I happen to be one of those doulas, who probably carries more than I 'need' to, but I've yet to feel like it's a waste to have my things with me, even when they never leave the bag during a birth. Even so, I still have births where I never remove a single item from my bag because my client needed ME and me only. And there's nothing wrong with that!
In fact, over time, I have removed items and replaced them with others that make more sense to me, or just left out items altogether because my clients tend to bring the items themselves more often. There's no wrong answer here.
Let me repeat that, what you choose to have in your doula bag, is completely up to you and there is no wrong answer. Don't ever let another doula, 'seasoned' or not, tell you otherwise or make you feel bad for it. Do you!
So, let's get into what I have in my bag. I'll list items by how often they're used at a birth.
Star projector - Everyone, from my clients to nurses to doctors, and everyone in between, seem to love this tool the most! It never fails, at every birth it's used, I send a link to the product to SOMEONE. It's a simple, small machine that projects/shines up onto the ceiling/wall a color-changing Aurora borealis and little stars. It is blue tooth capable, so one can hook the phone and playlist right up to it, giving you one less thing to pack yourself. There are a few on the market but this is the one I personally use: https://a.co/d/7rrrJQx
Essential oils diffuser: My second most requested item is my diffuser. Many people like the smell of essential oils during their labor and deliveries and diffusing the oils are an easy way to smell whatever scent you like without having it permanently in the room. I don't ever recommend adding oils to bath water or directly on the skin, as things can change quickly when we're in labor and we can go from loving something to hating it instantly. Also, know what oils you're using! There are certain scents that can actually stall labor or be harmful if inhaled, and for this reason, I only carry the basics in my bag that have been okay'd by medical professionals as 'safe for pregnancy' and even then, keep in mind, essential oils are one product that isn't researched thoroughly, so what information we do know is incredibly limited. Here is the diffuser that I carry: https://a.co/d/5t4Dgwq
Rechargeable hand-held fan/stroller fan: Often, when we start pushing our babies out, we get really hot. This is a great time to get a cool wash rag for the back of the neck and get a fan blowing on the client! The rechargeable ones are great because all you do is plug it in, on occasion, and it recharges within a short amount of time, so there is no need for a cord to plug in or to replace batteries. Here are the two I have in my bag: https://a.co/d/0tfWcpG and https://a.co/d/gWXuPPu
Battery-operated candles: These are great for hospitals when you're trying to set a nice, calm, safe atmosphere in the room without causing a fire hazard. I tend to place these all around a tub while my client is in there soaking or in the room to set a soft mood. There are a million different sizes and colors to choose from, but I find the small votives to work best for the money. Here are the ones I have: https://a.co/d/7wJZJUs
Combs: A wonderful tool that actually has research about its effectiveness! A comb placed in the hand to squeeze and apply pressure to the palm of the hand during a contraction can help with the sensation and intensity of the contraction. We think this works because of the Gait Control Theory of Pain, read about it here https://evidencebasedbirth.com/overview-pain-management-during-labor-birth/ . You can use anything from a hard, plastic comb to my most-used, a small wooden beard comb that fits perfectly in the palm of the hand. Here is the one that I have: https://www.mountainmadnesssoap.com/products/wooden-beard-comb
Fairy Lights: Another handy tool that can be used to really set that warm, calming atmosphere in a birthing space. You can find them in a variety of lengths and everything from plug-in to battery-operated, like the ones I have. They can be wrapped around things, hung over things, or simple strewn along a windowsill to add that nice touch to the room. Here is the one I use: https://a.co/d/96HtM2a
Massage balls: While I also carry a few tennis balls in my bag to help with pressure points in the back and providing some massage, these particular balls are so helpful, and allow your hands to rest during long-term use. They come in a set of two and are often loved more than just tennis balls. Here are the ones I use: https://a.co/d/3TgIDy5
Bendy straws: This was definitely one that I didn't initially carry in my bag but after quite a few births where the hospital didn't have bendy straws, and my clients ended up wet, on more than one occasion, as we tried to get them a drink of something they didn't have to worry about holding and NOT having a straw that bends. Sometimes, our clients are in a position that isn't ideal for a regular straw and that's when these come in real handy! You can find them anywhere!
Affirmation cards: It's a great tool to use to help your client focus and stay in tune with the goal of pain management. I have a few different sets and let my clients go through them during our prenatal visits and pick out the ones that speak to them the most. Some of my clients also create their own cards and want them placed throughout their space to focus on. I either hang them up by wall putty or my string and laundry clip holders. You can find some really great ones on Etsy!
Some other things I always have in my bag are tissues and hankies, because birth can be incredibly emotional and sometimes there's a lot of tears. My client's birth plan and my certificates of certification (some hospitals ask for proof that we're legit). Snacks, snacks, and more snacks...which always include honey sticks, electrolyte powder for water, suckers, gum/mints, trail mix, beef jerky, and peanut butter. Of course, don't forget the chargers and cables for phones and other items that need charged regularly! Always bring a change of clothes for yourself and toiletries, as sometimes, we're at a birth for 20 hours or more; gotta stay fresh and ready to support that client! I also bring my hoodie that has my business logo on it (hospitals get cold and having a hood to block out some light and noise is helpful), as well as some business cards (nurses are always asking for these!). I also bring ear plugs, in case my clients or myself, need them to help drown out some noise and get some good sleep.
What things were useful during your labor or have you seen/heard in other doulas' bags that you feel could be helpful to add to my bag? I love hearing about new tricks and tools of our trade.