One Doula’s Bag of Tricks
by Tracy Hartley

Tracy Hartley is a mother, grandmother, and DONA certified doula who runs Birth Empowerment Support Team (B*E*S*T) Doula Service. B*E*S*T Doula Service provides birth doulas and referrals to postpartum doulas for childbearing families throughout the greater Los Angeles area. B*E*S*T can be reached at ((877) 1-Doula-U or (877) 436-8528 or visit their webpage at You can also e-mail tracy at

The most important things a doula brings to the birth are her undivided attention, emotional, physical and informational support and her total belief in the mother’s ability to give birth. In addition, most doulas bring their own “bag of tricks” to a birth. These bags may be no bigger than a purse or a gym bag, or might be a large wheeled bag, like mine.
Here are a few of my favorite tricks, toys and tips to help a mother get through labor with less pain and medical intervention:

Soda cans for back massage – I prefer the “Think” drinks which can be found at Trader Joe’s. I keep three cans in a bucket of ice and switch cans between each contraction, so there’s always a cold can ready. These smaller cans are easier for doing rolling massage and the drinks, with names like “Stamina,” “De-Stress,” and “Think,” help maintain the doula’s energy level during a long birth, so I always bring extra cans for myself and for mom’s partner.

Feathers – when mom is ready to push, she may have to wait for the doctor or stop pushing to get the cord from around baby’s neck. It can be almost impossible for her to stop pushing, so I ask mom to blow on a feather. This gives her something to focus on — some of the moms I’ve worked with have asked to keep their feather to put in the baby book!

Stress Balls – these are small rubber balls with bumps on them. Mom holds one in each hand and the bumps press on the acupressure points in the palms of her hands and keep her from tensing up during painful contractions.

Birth Ball – most doulas bring a birth ball to each birth and almost every mom I’ve worked with has absolutely loved the ball. There are so many wonderful uses for the ball that I’ll save that for another article, but if you don’t have a doula, check with your hospital before your birth to see if they have them (some hospitals do). I have a separate cover for transporting the ball and bring two clean covers in zippered plastic bags for mom to sit on during her labor. I also bleach the ball between births.

Heat Packs – these are usually sold to campers and hunters for keeping their hands warm on cold nights. They can be activated instantly and stay very warm for about 20 minutes. They have to be boiled when you get home to sterilize them and reactivate them for the next birth. They are wonderful for relieving back labor pain and some doctors have begun to ask the doula for them to warm the washcloth for perineal massage.

Swim Noodle – I cut them into four equal lengths and mom can put a piece behind her back in the car on the way to the hospital to relieve back pain. They are also very handy if mom’s cervix is tipped back and the doctor has trouble checking her. Instead of having to put her fists behind her back, I just slip the swim noodle under her hips. It’s much more comfortable for her and she won’t feel so confined with her hands free.

Notebook and pen – I take quick notes during the labor and then type them up for mom to keep. This includes names of the staff in attendance, progress of labor, time of various procedures, memorable reactions, comments or events. Most women go into a labor trance and can lose track of time and events, and they are amazed to read the actual time line of events. I also bring masking tape to put on the leg of my scrubs for notes if I have to attend a mom during a cesarean delivery.

Of course I also bring tennis balls in a sock for massage, a rice sock (I make a new one for each mom) for moist heat to use at home before we go to the hospital, my camera to take pictures of the newborn, extra birth ball covers, hair clips, scrunchies and a shower cap for mom, cassette tapes of music appropriate for labor and birth, spare batteries for everything, change and a calling card for phone calls, small table top fan (battery operated) and more. Before you choose a doula, you may want to see what’s in her “bag of tricks.”