What to put in your bag for a birth is a question that comes up a lot both on parenting forums and in doula groups. I’m very aware of it on forums for doulas – it’s most often asked by a really keen, excited, nervous new doula busy preparing to go out for the first time and wanting to be ready. Every time I see the question I have a little smile to myself because the replies always seem to follow a similar format.
Usually the first response will come from another relatively new doula who is spending lots of time on the groups absorbing as much information as she can, asking lots of questions, interacting, networking. A long list of must-have items will be given including:
Spare knickers, toothbrush and paste, snacks, something for massaging a client, phone charger, parking money … all very valid suggestions.
There might be a reply from someone who has a huge bag of tricks – takes everything from a change of clothes to the kitchen sink, who is known for lugging duvets and beanbags around birth centres.
And then the final response is usually from a long-time doula who will generally say something like:
Phone, car keys, hairband, money … or, whatever I have in my hand when I get the call!
Some doulas don’t have a dedicated bag, though many have spent hours looking for the perfect carry-all – with compartments or wheels to make trundling through hospitals or on the night bus home that bit easier. Ultimately it comes down to you – you do what feels right for you, but what I would encourage any doula to consider is this question – who is taking responsibility for the birth?
I spend far more time talking to my clients about what they think they will need for birth, because if they invest time in thinking about what they might need then they are engaging with the feelings that come up around birth, and what might make it a more positive experience for them. Something that I think looks, feels or smells lovely might not resonate with them, so it is far more important that the family in question source what feels right for them.
However, experience of being in the birth room over more than ten years has taught me some valuable lessons, so here are a just a few of the things I think worth considering having when preparing for your birth, and none of them require an expensive shopping trip!
- A large dark-coloured towel. There is nothing worse than having a shower during or after birth and having to dry yourself on something the size of a tea-towel which feels like it’s made of cardboard – you want something soft, familiar and cosy on your body. A dry towel can double up as a blanket – something warm to place round a labouring woman’s shoulders if she feels chilly or a bit shaky in the transition stage or immediately after the baby has arrived. A comfortable towel/blanket over a pairing of new mother and baby, or partner and baby, protects skin-to-skin contact which is so important in those first few minutes, hours and days.
- A pillow from home in an old pillow case. The word that comes to mind for NHS pillows is “minimal”, or if I am being unkind “stingy”. In labour we sometimes need to create a cosy nest for the body – pillows can be a prop between the legs to make the hips feel more comfortable and encourage opening; they provide a soft cushion to rest into if we are trying to shut out the light of the room; they can provide a comfortable resting place for the arms or elbows if we are in forward-leaning positions e.g. on the cistern of the toilet if we are sitting facing the wall; they can be a useful elbow/arm support if we are feeding our babies; they can support a weary head after a long labour. The most basic of comforts can provide the greatest relief. Sometimes the birth partner might need to kip in a less-than-comfortable spot so having a pillow can make a world of difference. Having your own pillow is a reminder of home – it has familiar smell and look to it, rather than being clinical and cold.
- A bendy straw. I’m not an advocate for plastic – in fact I am doing everything I can do avoid single-use plastics – but a bendy straw is invaluable. I have noticed so many times how much effort is seems to take a woman who is labouring to lift her head to take a sip from a bottle or a cup – to put a straw to someone’s lips for her to be able to draw a few drops of water or other drink keeps her hydrated (which is so important for energy in birth). You can now buy metal, reusable or even bamboo straws so hit the search engines and see what you can find. I have to remind myself to drink plenty during a birth too, so a non-spill portable mug is one of my essentials.
- A hair band – I have long hair and usually find that I need to put my hair up and out of the way during birth – but often so do labouring women – hair in your face can be annoying, sweaty, uncomfortable.
- Lip balm – hospitals especially seem to be quite dry environments – hot, dehydrating and if a labouring woman is really focussing on her breathing, expending a lot of effort or using gas and air her lips can get really dry. A touch of balm can feel really wonderful. I tend to have an unperfumed massage balm which has multiple uses – as lip balm, moisturiser and massage wax.
- Food is essential for birth – for labouring women, for their partners and for doulas – none of us function well if we don’t have energy. I’ve known a birth completely change direction once two tired, unfed partners went out for a quick half hour pizza, fresh air and freshen up. One client of mine ate hard boiled eggs (not my cup of tea) and another sucked chocolate buttons through her labour. Many women love fresh fruit – a piece of mango, some grapes – easy, fresh, available natural sugars. Sweets or honey sticks are popular too.
- Something comfortable to wear – birth is not a fashion parade and you don’t need to go out and buy something especially – again, it’s about familiarity, comfort and ease. It is worth saying that it is definitely not obligatory to wear a hospital gown. For someone birthing in a pool a bikini, or underwear, is fine if you don’t feel comfortable with nudity. After birth the ideal is to have as much skin-to-skin with your baby as possible, so a large shirt is great, or anything that is easy-to-open. Many forums suggest buying disposable paper knickers – my experience was that they were totally grim and I think would be whatever type of birth you have – investing in a multi-pack of cheap, really big, cotton pants feels a bit more humane – again, it’s all about feeling comfortable. Blood loss continues for a few weeks after birth for the majority of women so choosing dark colours rather than pristine whites and investing in plenty of maternity sanitary pads is a good idea. Partners can often get really hot in hospital settings, so perhaps consider a change or two of t-shirt/tops.
- Phone chargers. We don’t seem to be able to exist without our devices these days and during birth they can serve a number of functions – your playlist of music or visualisations/meditations, as a camera for the first of what will be thousands of photos and films, SatNav for the quickest route to the birth centre or hospital etc. After the birth you will, no doubt, want to tell the world that your baby has arrived (though I generally encourage the golden hour or uninterrupted family time – skin to skin, initiation of feeding, resting after the birth, rehydrating etc) so, battery time is going to be needed!
There are, of course, many other things that you could or might want to take to a birth, but this is my core list. I’m interested to hear what your favourite thing you brought with you was? What would you consider invaluable?
Click here to watch Sophie chatting about birth plans
Go to www.nurturingbirthdirectory.com to find a doula to support you through your pregnancy and birth