Every doula has a wealth of tools available to support their clients during labor and birth. Some of the most important tools we have can’t be packed in a bag: compassion, knowledge, encouragement, empowerment. There are some physical tools doulas definitely use to support clients during labor, so that’s what we’ll focus on today.
So what should you pack in your doula bag?
There isn’t one right answer, and it will vary from doula to doula. Some arrive with all sorts of items, and some arrive with only their hands, head, and heart, ready to support. Most doulas fall somewhere between these two examples. Here are some things most doulas find useful as they support their clients’ labors.
A massager. There are lots of options for massagers: battery-operated or manual, with heat or without, different textures. You might choose to have a few different ones and test them out with your clients at prenatal meetings (remembering of course that sometimes what feels helpful during labor varies from other times). Another easy option is to put three tennis balls in a new sock and knot it at both ends. This creates “handles” and you can roll it up and down the client’s back. It’s also easy to swap out a new sock for each new client. If you don’t have a massager, remember that sometimes the simplest touch of your hands can bring the most relief and comfort.
Warm/cool packs. Heat and cool feel good for clients during different stages of labor. Warm packs can alleviate discomfort and cool packs can refresh and re-energize. You might choose to purchase one of the various options for heat or cool, or use a homemade rice pack for heat. If you don’t have these items, hospital washcloths can be soaked in warm or cool water for relief.
Phone charger. Of course you won’t be on your phone much if at all during births, but it’s always a good idea to have a charger with you just in case it is a long labor.
Credentials. Many hospitals ask to see identification and credentials before allowing doulas to join their clients. Sometimes your certificate of completion is adequate for this purpose.
Water and snacks. Always bring water and snacks with you to births. You may have time to leave for a break and get a sandwich or something but you should be prepared so that you don’t have to leave your client. Bring snacks that won’t be too heavy, and be sure to stay hydrated.
Change of clothing/personal toiletries and medications. Always, always bring a change of clothes with you to each birth. Labor and birth are messy, and even if you don’t get anything else on you, you’re likely to sweat some just from doing comfort measures. Better to have an extra set of clothes and not need them rather than to need them and not have them! Remember to also bring any prescription medications that you need to take at certain times, because you can’t predict how long a labor will be. It’s also a good idea to carry any over the counter pain relievers that you might need for a headache or sore muscles.
The following items are not things that every doula carries, but some do. Some require additional training and certification to use. Check with Birth Beautifully if you’d like to learn more.
Visual aids. Sometimes when you are describing a position for a comfort measure or pushing, it might be difficult for the client and her partner to visualize. These types of laminated cards or sheets usually include a diagram or picture of the position and information regarding when that particular position can be especially helpful. These can be a great help not only for clients visually, but also for you as the doula as reminders of options for positioning.
Small fan. Clients get overheated easily during labor. A small, battery-powered or plug-in fan can provide wonderful relief.
Birth ball or peanut ball. Most hospitals provide these for clients’ use during labor. If you know the hospital your client will give birth in does not have them, you might loan yours to your client. Many clients also purchase their own. Make a plan before labor begins because you don’t want to lug those around unnecessarily.
Toiletries for clients. Some doulas carry travel sized toiletries to give to their clients. Mouthwash, lotion, chapstick, hair ties, etc. are often very helpful during labor. You can choose to provide these for your clients, or just have some on hand in case they forget their own.
TENS unit. A TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) sends small electric impulses to targeted areas. This is especially helpful on the lower back during labor, providing pain relief during contractions. TENS units are small and portable so clients can continue to be mobile while using them. Women who have epilepsy or cardiac problems should NOT use TENS units, and they cannot be used in water. Always be sure clients speak with their provider before using. If you don’t want to purchase a TENS unit yourself, you can always let your clients purchase a unit for themselves.
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Christine Herrera helps people become amazing birth professionals.