I’ve written before about options for laboring moms to wear but what about doulas? I see that question asked often on the boards!
There’s some passionate debate about scrubs vs. no scrubs in the doula world. While some feel it presents a professional appearance (not to mention they are comfortable, practical with all those pockets, and easy to clean) they also suggest a medical role. On three different occasions in different hospitals when I was NOT wearing scrubs I’ve been mistaken for being staff, including once in an emergency situation when they asked if I was the new resident (as they prepared to intubate my baby and they needed extra help.) I would like to avoid that situation in the future! A doula is NOT a medical professional, and I’ve heard that many nurses are bothered by doulas showing up in scrubs. It can be confusing, and it also sends a different message to clients. I remember my own midwife talking with my doula during my fifth birth and explaining why she (as a well experienced and highly trained medical professional) chooses to not wear scrubs to births – she said they imply birth is a medical procedure, instead of a natural event. As the birthing mom I remember and appreciated that she was wearing her own clothing – it’s a small but significant detail.
So if you do decide to wear scrubs for their practical aspect, verify you are not wearing the color of the hospital staff (and each field may have different colors – nurses, physicians, respiratory therapists, nurse techs, nursery vs. postpartum, etc.) I would suggest you wear dark blue or black scrubs, and only the pants. (Then I discovered one local hospital has the L&D nurses in black scrubs!) The shirt is what’s most visible and by wearing a non-scrub shirt you help eliminate some of that confusion. Many doulas will wear a personalized t-shirt that says DOULA on the front or back. This is practical, but a t-shirt and scrub pants do appear somewhat casual which may or may not be the message you want to send. (Update: I found two pairs of black scrub pants that are more fitted than most, have tons of pockets, and don’t look like scrub pants. I LOVE them and pair them with a long sleeved shirt and sweater for hospital births.)
When attending hospital births I still want to appear professional, but I know I’m going to be laboring with the mom in all sorts of positions for potentially LONG hours and I want to be comfortable. I’ve sometimes had to attend births in dressy slacks and they are NOT comfortable or easy to stretch around in when you’re helping mom squat or leaning over the edge of a tub to apply pressure to her lower back. I’ve found that stretchy pants work best to help give me freedom of movement, but by getting them in a dark color they can still appear dressy. If you look around you can find some with pockets – HIGHLY useful you’ll find!
With these dark, stretchy slacks I’ll wear a 3/4 sleeved shirt in a solid neutral color, usually also dark. Long sleeved work well but will need to be pushed back when you’re leaning over tubs and getting wet, rubbing lotion on for massages, etc. I like my hands free to work! In the summer if I know we’ll be walking outside a lot I’ll wear a short sleeved shirt, but I try to not wear t-shirts again as I like to present a more professional appearance. You also want to make sure that the shirt is long enough to completely cover your waist and then some – you’ll be moving a lot and don’t want to flash skin! I have a few shirts I keep set aside, along with a couple pairs of slacks. Then add some dark socks and shoes that are comfortable to be standing in for a LONG time but that can be wiped clean or thrown in the wash. I advise an overall dark outfit, as birth can sometimes be up close and personal and the dark better hides things that may get on you.
Hospitals tend to be cold year round, so I also keep my doula jacket handy. In the winter my scarf doubles as an extra rebozo. I always wear my hair up and out of the way, and I avoid any perfumes or strongly scented lotions.
Out of hospital births I am much more casual. In summer I’ll wear capris instead of slacks (I always wear pants to hospital births) and I am comfortable going in a t-shirt or other casual top. If we’ll be outside I’ll throw in some flip flops to wear (my feet get hot too quickly, it’s odd) and those are also handy if you’re helping mom while she’s laboring in the shower or tub and you may get wet. Some doulas swear sandals are never appropriate for births but at the birth center I’m hopping up and down from that bed so often to support mom and I don’t want to wear my shoes on their lovely bed! Flip flops or other sandals let me quickly slip them off and on as I move around. I am admittedly spoiled also as I’ve been working with the birth center and know their staff so I’m not worried about first impressions and looking professionally attired.
Before any birth I suggest you try on your doula “uniform” and check coverage. If you lift your arms over your head does your shirt rise and show your stomach? If you bend over is your cleavage showing? Your undies in back? Sorry to sound like a dress code enforcer, but when you’re helping a mom you don’t want to worry about whether the odd position you are in is flashing your underwear to everyone behind you. Try squatting, are your pants still comfortable? All good? Do you feel polished and professional? I try to wear my labor necklace and a pair of earrings to my births, even at 3am (and I’ve had moms comment on that!) It helps me feel pulled together and I think it sends a message to mothers that I’m ready, I’m alert, and I’m focused. Yes, sometimes I’m showing up looking like I just rolled out of bed and I’m in yoga pants and a t-shirt and flip flops and my hair is chaos, but I really try to show up looking good! There will be times you are called to a birth and leaving straight from another activity, you may not always have time to shower and change into your outfit and that’s okay! The most important thing is that YOU are there for the mother, in whatever outfit you can manage.
Update: The black scrub pants I wear are the Grey’s Anatomy line. I’ve found that the fabric is a different texture/slightly different look than traditional scrubs, it’s black so most hospital staff isn’t wearing the same color, the pockets are fantastic and they are so comfortable, and I pair them with a 3/4 sleeve shirt and jacket. Yes, even at the July birth I attended yesterday I needed a jacket here in Texas, the hospitals are FREEZING.