A birth doula is a trained professional who provides physical and emotional support throughout the transition to parenthood. Doulas help to educate their clients about their options and facilitate good communication with the hospital staff. A common misconception about birth doulas is that we assist only in-home or unmedicated births. In fact, a doula’s job is to support women through all types of birth experiences. The hospital can often bring up feelings of fear or discomfort, so having a doula is a wonderful way to bring an intimate and comfortable environment to a clinical setting. Research suggests that having a doula not only lends to a more satisfying birth experience, but also improves the physical and psychological outcomes for both mother and baby. Dr. John Kennell said, “If a doula were a drug, it would be unethical not to use it.” The doula prioritizes the creation of a comfortable birth environment where the mother’s needs are being met. These are some of the essential items I bring to births to support my client and optimize the birthing experience.
I recommend investing in a birth ball early in pregnancy. It is something you can use to prepare your body for birth and provide comfort in pregnancy as well as labor. It can also be used to help soothe your baby to sleep in the months after birth. There are a number of benefits to using a birth ball in labor. The advantages of a birth ball are so widely recognized that some hospitals even provide one for you!
Essential Oils and Diffuser
My go-to essential oils for labor are lavender, lemon, and peppermint. The aromas of peppermint and lemon are not only refreshing and energizing, but also helpful in reducing symptoms of nausea. Lavender is useful for relaxation, and when mixed with a carrier oil such as almond or jojoba, it makes for a great massage oil.
Did you know that the bathtub and shower are two of the most effective tools for managing pain in labor? The sensation of warm water pressure can lend to a wonderful sense of relaxation for the body. If the hospital you are birthing at has a bathtub or shower, don’t forget to pack a bathing suit for your partner, who may want to jump in with you to provide additional stability and support. You will likely be joined by a nurse or midwife at times, so depending on your level of modesty, you might want one for yourself too.
If you don’t have access to a bathtub or shower, you can still experience the relaxing benefits of heat with a hot water bottle. Place it gently on your lower back and lower abdomen.
Staying hydrated during labor is very important. Your body is working so hard! When your water bag breaks in labor, the body continues to create amniotic fluid, which makes it even more important to replenish yourself with fluids. I recommend bringing a recognizable, reusable water bottle with a built-in straw so that your birth team can keep track of your water intake and you can comfortably sip from any position you are in.
Oftentimes we associate hospitals with illness or even death. Perhaps it reminds you of visiting a loved one or a previous hospital stay of your own. Hospital gowns can be reminiscent of that fear and sadness. Birth is not an illness and it is rarely an emergency. That’s why I suggest packing comfortable and nonclinical clothing to wear. Let’s face it, when was the last time you wore a hospital gown to one of your own joyous and powerful occasions? Your birth experience is probably one of the most powerful and brave transitions you will ever undergo, and a day that is celebrated for years to come. I recommend the line Pretty Pushers. They make labor gowns that accommodate epidural placement, skin to skin, breastfeeding, and baby monitoring without the clinical feeling.
I know it’s not the most glamorous packing list item, but you’ll thank me later! If your water breaks at home, you will experience continuous leaking. Depends allow for a dry car ride to the hospital. They also make it more comfortable to walk the halls and move around freely in labor. In my experience, most hospitals only supply bulky pads that don’t allow for as much comfort and mobility. You will also get some use out of them post-birth.
Labor can be long, sometimes even really long, and although some women lose their appetites completely, others crave nutrients to deliver the energy they need. Not all hospitals invite eating in labor, so I always encourage my clients to eat a good meal before heading to the hospital. However, honey sticks are a light and easy way to boost energy and blood sugar when needed.
Whether you are listening to classical spa music or upbeat dance tracks, music is a great way to transport your mind and body in labor. Music often invites movement, which is known to help support the progress of labor and delivery. With your doctor’s permission, music can be a wonderful relaxation tool for a caesarean birth as well.
Light-up Candles and Christmas Lights
Last but certainly not least is lighting. The first thing I do when I enter a hospital room is turn off all the lights, set up battery-operated candles, and string lights everywhere. Not only does this help make a sterile hospital room feel cozy and spa-like, but good lighting actually has physiological benefits. According to a study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, low light helps promote contractions. That explains why so many babies are born in the wee hours. The hormone melatonin works in conjunction with oxytocin to advance labor. Oxytocin, which is also known as the “love hormone,” is released throughout the body during labor. In addition to bringing on contractions, this hormone is responsible for lactation and bonding.