As a doula, I know the value of a held hand, whispered encouragement, and a guided breath. There is research out there stating that simply having a doula in the room -- even if she sits there and only observes -- increases birth outcomes. But still, what's in the bag?
In my doula bag, I've got heating pads -- the kind that are activated by air. I would like to carry a silk, rice-filled pouch that can be heated in the microwave and molded to a woman's body, but most hospitals don't allow them anymore. But the heat can feel wonderful against the back or belly during contractions. Conversely, I also carry cold packs, the kind that you squeeze until something inside pops, then shake, and the square becomes ice-cold. I don't use these too often, but when I do, it's often at the site of the IV or hep-lock (the port to attach an IV quickly). Some laboring moms like the ice on their foreheads or necks, when labor has them heating up, but I find that cold, wet towels are better for cooling them off. These are single-use plastic and chemical packs, so not very green; but in a hospital room, use of heat and cold is limited if available at all.
I carry essential oils. If the mom wants a massage, I'll mix the essential oils into grapeseed oil (essential oils can't be used directly on the skin). Clary sage oil is reported to regulate the uterus and organize contractions, and lavender oil encourages relaxation. Lemon verbena oil can also cut right through a woman's nausea. I don't know what the science is behind aromatherapy, whether it achieves what aromatherapists claim, but they sure do smell good, and sometimes the smells of an antiseptic hospital, or the raw smells of birth, can make laboring women uncomfortable (remember that laboring women can have acute reactions to scents, however!). Any of these oils can go on the aforementioned wet towel, or on cotton balls, which are also in my doula bag.
I carry a deflated birthing ball and pump. If there's a ball already in the labor room, great! --but mine is always there just in case.
I bring a gardener's kneeling pad, so if mom is laboring on her knees, she's not on the hard linoleum.
I have a 6 foot long beautiful shawl, which can be draped over mom if she gets chills. The texture and colors are rich and luxurious, very pleasing to the senses. One of these days, I'd like to get a rebozo training, too.
I have two combs, one that mom can squeeze in each fist during contractions. When held perfectly, the teeth on the comb stimulate acupressure meridians that encourage labor to progress. And mom can squeeze them as tightly as she likes, dispersing the sensations of contractions as much or as little as she pleases.
Two cosmetics bag -- one for me, with saline solution, a contact lens case, tooth brush, toothpaste, hairband, and breakfast bars for quick energy; one for mom with hard candies, new lip balm, and a hair band for her.
And a hand mirror. Some moms want to see their baby's heads emerging. It can be great encouragement for only a few more pushes when she feels like she's got nothing left, and it can provide a view of that once-in-a-lifetime moment as the baby crowns. Hospitals haven't figured out yet that hand-mirrors are easier. Instead, they lug these heavy mirrors on rolling stands. Such a bother, and many laboring women still don't want people to "fuss" over them.
What's in yours?