It's true that you could give birth in a bare room if needed, but it certainly wouldn't be ideal! There are a number of props (that can be both purchased and made) that can be very useful when getting into more comfortable or ideal positions for laboring as well as for giving birth. Some of the props listed will be available at your place of birth or from your doula (be sure to ask in advance), and some will have free or near-free alternatives (in other words, you don't have to purchase a specially-made item).
Uses: So many! To sit on, to lean over, to kneel over, to use as a prop for squatting against a wall. An exercise ball can help increase comfort during labor and encourage you to remain mobile and in positions where gravity works to your advantage, both of which help labor progress.
Cost: $8 - $15
Availability: Many hospitals have these on hand, but it may be a good idea to bring your own to birth in case it's not available or not inflated.
Alternatives: Pillows stacked can work well in some situations, but few things replace the versatility of an exercise ball.
Tips: Bring it to your birth already inflated. Purchase a ball that is labeled "anti-burst" (most are) and that is sized appropriately for your height (look on the box for guidelines or Google search "exercise ball height guidelines").
Uses: A peanut ball is like an exercise ball, but is shaped like a peanut. The most common use for birth is to help open up the pelvis when used in between the legs while lying down in a side-lying position. It's especially helpful for use with an epidural or where mobility is limited. Keeping the pelvis open provides more room for baby to move down in preparation for birth, which can shorten the length of labor and reduce the need for interventions like forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesarean.
Cost: $15 - $30
Availability: Some hospitals and birth centers have these available to use. Your doula also may have one, but be sure to ask.
Alternatives: Stacked pillows can work well, but require more frequent adjustments.
Tips: Inflate prior to birth. Size matters - a 50 cm ball will work for most people, but if you are taller or have short legs, you may want to go down or up in size accordingly. You can also deflate or inflate the ball to better accommodate your body size.
Uses: So many! You can check out this article for 5 quick descriptions of some of the top uses for a rebozo in labor, and if you're still interested, check out Pinterest for more ideas. A rebozo is a very versatile tool to relieve labor pain, increase support, and even carry your baby after birth!
Cost: free - $100
Availability: You can order a rebozo online, or in the case of using an alternative, you can find it almost anywhere.
Alternatives: a bedsheet, a sturdy shawl, a large and thin beach towel, a thin blanket
Tips: Learn about and practice using a rebozo before labor begins. A doula can be very knowledgeable in using a rebozo for labor and birth.
Partner/Doula/Birth Support Person
Uses: Just about everything, from providing physical support in a squatting position, to emotional support during a long stretch of labor and everything in between!
Availability: If you don't have an obvious partner, find someone to be your person. Or hire labor support in a doula. A nurse can be awesome and very helpful (but may not be) but is only available during labor on a limited basis.
Cost: Free for a partner or friend; doulas range from $300 - $2000
Alternatives: No alternative for human presence!
Tips: If you don't feel comfortable with the idea of labor support from your partner, that's ok. Hire a doula or seek out a friend or family member who will be comfortable and good in that role.
Uses: Sitting in facing forward, sitting in facing backward (and using the chair back for resting), kneeling over the seat, using to prop your leg upon in a lunge position (helps open pelvis), holding on to the back while standing (just make sure it's a heavier chair for this!).
Availability: Pretty much everywhere. If you can't find a standard chair in your hospital room, ask for one.
Alternatives: Stools, counter surface, a raised bed
Tips: Become familiar with common laboring positions using a chair prior to labor and birth. You can learn about this in a good childbirth class, which will review the many ways to change positions and find comfort in labor.
Uses: Leaning, hanging onto, during contractions. Allows you to work with gravity in a standing position.
Availability: Pretty much everywhere. You can use a counter top, a raised hospital bed, or a raised food tray cart in the hospital, or a partner's shoulders.
Alternatives: See above for options.
Uses: To position yourself more comfortably on the floor, especially in a hands and knees/all fours or leaning position.
Availability: Almost anywhere will have some of these options available.
Cost: Free - $20
Alternatives: Towels, blankets, a yoga mat, or a gardening mat.
Tips: Layering helps save soreness in knees. Use towels or blankets you don't mind getting messy.
Uses: For attaching to the hospital bed and using as a prop to help with pushing, by allowing you to better position into a squat and hold onto the bar for leverage during pushing.
Availability: In most hospitals.
Cost: Free to you
Alternatives: Squatting out of the bed and using other props, like the bedside, your partner, or a rebozo, to help stabilize your squat.
Tips: Ask about the squat bar well in advance of pushing so it will be in your room. Let your care providers and staff know you'd like to try using the squat bar during pushing.