Some doulas like to have full bags with all sorts of goodies and tricks up their sleeves while some doulas are very minimalist. It really depends on the doula's personality and philosophy. I believe we all share certain items and tricks in common. I like to try and strike a balance in the middle.
For clients interested, or new doulas looking for suggestions, I'd like to open my bag and reveal what I like when I go out to births.
1. Comfort Items, like my two massagers, are probably what I use the most at births. It's a good thing they are nice and small. They are always in my pockets or being used on the mother. I love the simple acrylic ones because they are durable and easy to disinfect and clean. They also help me apply pressure in certain areas during contractions.
2. Cooling or heating pads and fans are always very helpful during a birth. Ice packs or cool washcloths on mother's forehead is always nice when she is in the tub. Sometimes little fans near the face are good when the room is muggy or hot. Some birth centers or home births have more unpredictable room temperatures than hospitals so it's best to always be prepared to deal with the room conditions.
3. A Rebozo, noodle board, squeeze ball, and small battery tealights. Every one of my clients gets a Rebozo as part of their birth package. I love love love using a Rebozo during labor. It is such a useful tool during births and can be used in so many ways. The noodle board is for me, mostly, but sometimes the mother or partner will use it as well. I usually use it to kneel down for various positions. It's nice when a woman is laboring in the tub and I can be down at her level. Mothers may use it as well if she needs to take pressure off her knees or wrists. The squeeze ball is for moms during contractions and the tealights are nice to help set a calming, relaxing birth room environment. Unless you are having a home birth the hospitals and birth centers are not going to let you light candles. You obviously can dim the lights in a room but the tealights give it another extra special element.
4. Essential Oils are something I am very cautious about. I actually never use them on clients. In my doula practice they are only for relaxation and are dispersed throughout the room using my mini dispenser or on a washcloth for mom to smell when she wants. Mothers can choose to use essential oils in other ways if they wish but I do always advise they check with their healthcare provider for safety.
5. My camera is a nice addition to my bag. I like to provide my clients with some nice photos if possible. A lot of doulas take a simple point and shoot camera or use their smart phones. I used to do that myself and is an excellent component to have. I must say though it is very difficult to capture truly good photos with point and shoots or cameraphones because they are not equiped to handle low lighting situations. I have taken the time to learn my camera and provide my clients with something special when a birth photographer is not present. I always take an extra battery and charger along with a few different lenses. Birth is beautiful so why not capture it!
6. Last is my folder, cards, and name badge. I have my folder to take notes and hold any contracts/forms or quick references. I like to give the doctors/midwives and nurses I work with my business card and my scope of practice to help them understand my role in the birth and show them I am a professional that takes my practice seriously. It usually helps build rapport and a good relationship. I also like to wear a name tag so no one is confused who I am in the room. Again, I think it helps the nurses and doctors who work in the hospital. Of course, practices are different in various hospitals/birth centers and different areas in the country so it's best to learn the policies and culture of the place and what is most appropriate.
There is no right way to put together a doula bag, and a fancy doula bag doesn't make someone a better or lesser doula. The most important thing a doula brings with her to a birth is her expertise/knowledge and compassion. I have a lot of tricks and tools in my bag, much like a Mary Poppins character, but nothing compares to the relationships I build with my clients before and during labor.