TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS machine is a small battery-powered box that sends mild electrical pulses to self-adhesive electrodes, or TENS unit pads, that have been attached to your body. Although nobody is exactly sure how TENS works, it has been shown to provide pain relief by blocking the pain signals sent to the brain, as well as increasing the levels of feel-good hormones (endorphins) in your body. TENS is used successfully by sufferers of acute and chronic pain, and many women turn to using TENS during labor as a source of natural pain relief during labour.
Why Choose TENS for pain relief?
As a portable, battery powered unit, a TENS machine fits easily into your birth plans and can be applied from the early stages of labour through to the birth. Many women who have used a TENS machine during labour swear by this pain relief solution and would recommend it to friends.
The biggest appeal of TENS is its portability and non-invasive pain control, making it perfect for home as well as hospital births. A TENS unit can be applied in the early stages of labour and carried with you if you need to move around. As a natural form of pain relief that stimulates your body’s own endorphines, TENS is perfect for women who aspire to achieving a natural birth. Although it is not recommended for early pregnancy, the use of a TENS machine for labour does not have any harmful effects on you or your baby and puts you firmly in control of your pain.
Many TENS units have a ‘booster’ button that allows you to increase the electrical pulses when a contraction is at its strongest, thus controlling the pain when you need it the most. Some women find that using a TENS unit for labor is enough to avoid medical pain relief during birth.
How to use a TENS Machine During labour
During labour, the TENS machine is most effective with the electrodes applied to your back, which may be easier with help. It is important that the pads are not positioned too closely together – your doctor or other health professional should be able to advise you how to apply the pads correctly before activating the machine. You may wish to practice applying the TENS unit pads in advance of labour to know where to apply them and to get used to the sensations produced by the machine.
Once the unit is activated, it can take up to an hour before your body responds to the electrical pulses and starts to release endorphins to block the pain. For this reason, start using the TENS machine as soon as contractions begin, beginning with the machine on its lowest setting and increasing the power when you feel the need. This means you need to plan ahead of time if you intend to use a TENS Unit for labor Pain, and you need to have decided to purchase or hire a TENS unit, have it charged up and ready to use, and preferably have some practice at using it before the big moment.
As your back can sweat during labour, then its worth checking the positioning of the pads at intervals as there’s a danger they can move. Another consideration is that your unit’s batteries may need to be replaced if the labour is prolonged. If you intend to use a TENS machine for labour pains at every stage of the birth, then remember to pack more batteries and have your birthing partner ready to help out if they need replacing.
Does TENS work for everyone?
While a great many women swear by the use of a TENS machine during labour and say they would use it again, this solution does not work in every case. One woman described her experience as “stingy and distracting”, but continued to say that:
“I only used it after I was in a lot of pain. Something tells me if I had used it from the start and had the chance to get used to the sensation before my labour got intense it would have been more useful. I would try it again!”
It has been shown that TENS is most effective when started in early labour and applying the pads in the advanced stages of labour may not allow it to work to its full effect. It takes some time for the body to respond to TENS, and it is harder when the pain is already intense. To know if a TENS machine will help you during labour, it may be worth trying it during the later stages of pregnancy to experience its effects.
“A great many women who have experienced success using a TENS machine during labour all say that they would use it again.”
What to watch out for :
The biggest contraindication to using a TENS machine for labour pains is water. Alternative sources of natural pain relief during labour are showers and birthing pools, and as a TENS machine should not be used in water (because of the electrical pulses and because the TENS pads will lose their adhesion) you will not be able to use both at once. However, while you won’t be able to use a TENS machine in a birthing pool, many women have experienced pain relief in the early stages of labour using TENS before removing the unit to give birth in the pool. If you choose to step into the shower, then removing the TENS machine first and reapplying the pads afterwards can work very well.
Although TENS has not been proven to have any dangerous effects on your baby, most health professionals will err on the side of caution and not recommended its use before the 26th week of pregnancy. Of course, it is always necessary to consult with your doctor before using a TENS machine during labour or at any stage of your pregnancy
How do I get a TENS machine?
If you would like to use a TENS machine for labour, then they can be bought or hired online, click here for our review of suitable TENS units. Reliable sites such as www.tens.net will allow you to compare the most important features of the available TENS machines in order to choose the unit you feel is the best TENS machine for labor for you. It is definitely worth considering searching the TENS Units for sale, and the biggest advantage of owning your own TENS unit is that it can be used for pain relief on other occasions or when you choose to have another child. A great many women who have experienced success using a TENS machine during labour all say that they would use it again.