TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It’s an option available for women in labor to assist with relaxation and pain management.
During pregnancy, you’ll probably research your options for pain relief – especially natural methods – in order to reduce side effects and further interventions.
A TENS machine is a drug-free option, but is it helpful?
Is it worth getting a TENS machine for labor?
If you want to use TENS in your own home, the machine comes with a cost; if you’re in a hospital, they might provide you with one.
TENS units are also great for other muscle ailments and can be used outside of pregnancy.
Weigh up the cost. Some products are more expensive than others, so do your research and chat with other mothers to see which they preferred.
It appears the benefits of a TENS unit for labor as a comfort measure during contractions are substantial and recommended in early labor.
You can also use the electrical nerve stimulation tens after the birth. Just attach the electrodes in the days following birth for those biting after birth pains.
Pros and Cons of using a TENS Machine
Here are the pros for the use of TENS unit in labor:
- It is a non-invasive method of pain management
- The TENS unit can be used in your own home in early labor
- There are no harmful effects on the mother or baby
- Using a TENS machine means there is no restriction of movement in labor
- It reduces the need for medical narcotics
- You can control the machine with a handheld device, allowing you to use it exactly when and where it’s needed
- It has multiple settings with variation of intensity
Here are the cons for a TENS unit in labor:
- If you would like to use water for pain relief, you can’t wear the machine in the bath or shower. You need to remove and replace the pads each time you get in and out
- It’s recommended you used TENS as early in labor as possible – from the first contractions
- There is conflicting research on the effectiveness of TENS during labor – more quality research would be ideal
- Some women don’t like the sensation; try out the machine before labor and/or before purchasing, if possible
- A TENS machine is more effective when used in combination with other pain relief aids –such as relaxation, positioning and massage.
Your midwife and birth partner can help you secure the TENS unit for labor pain; having a large belly and dealing with contractions make it tricky for some women.
Is a TENS unit safe while pregnant?
If applied correctly, TENS can be used safely without any side effects to your baby.
Avoid using it in early pregnancy, and remember to not place the electrodes on acupuncture points in the web space beside the thumb, all around the lower half of the leg and ankle, or the top of the shoulders.
This is contraindicated; using TENS on these parts of the body can cause seizures or early contractions.
Have a chat with your midwife or health care provider for more advice on TENS therapy.
How long does a TENS machine take to work?
If using TENS is going to work for you, you should like feeling of the pain control, and feel relief more or less instantly.
If, like some women, you don’t like the sensation immediately, you can turn off the TENS at any time.
Keep in mind, though, nothing will take away the entire pain until your baby is born. The TENS therapy is a tool to cope with labor contraction pain.
Can I sleep with a TENS machine on?
It is not recommended to use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation while you are sleeping.
This doesn’t mean you can’t lie down on the bed for labor pain relief, or for back pain management, using TENS on your lower back.
How does TENS relieve pain?
The TENS machine is a small, battery-operated device. It works by delivering small electrical impulses, via leads, to electrodes with adhesive pads that enable them to be attached directly to your skin.
When the machine is switched on, the electrical impulses are delivered to the affected area of your body. You will feel a tingling sensation, which can be increased in intensity, if required.
The electrical impulses flood the nervous system, reducing its ability to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.
The TENS units are not waterproof and should not be used with water immersion.
Can TENS machines cause miscarriage?
The TENS unit might not be suitable if you have a history of epilepsy, an irritable uterus, a history of early miscarriage, or if you’ve had a previous abortion.
This brochure is user friendly and has more information:
TENS application for induction
Due to the risk of inducing labor contractions, TENS should not be used over certain areas of the body.
Do not place electrodes on acupuncture points in the web space of the thumb, all around the lower half of the leg and ankle, and the top of the shoulders.
However, if you are having an induction by other methods and require pain relief options, you may use TENS for pain relief and lower back pain.
To allow time for your endorphins level to rise, begin using your TENS machine one hour before your induction.
TENS machine reviews from BellyBelly readers
Here’s some feedback from BellyBelly fans who have used TENS machines during labor.
“I’ve used a TENS for pain twice, and had no other pain relief. It doesn’t take the pain completely away, but using TENS certainly helps! I also liked having something to concentrate on as there is a button you press down on when you’re having a contraction.
“You probably know that you can’t use the TENS in water. I was hesitant to take it all off and back on again so just didn’t worry about showers etc during labor.
“Hot tip: use duct tape to secure the pads to your back! Have done this both times because your back can get quite sweaty, and the pads can move from their spot otherwise”.
“Used TENS unit for my spontaneous forceps delivery with my daughter and my induced boy/girl twin delivery earlier this year. I found them very useful and would use the TENS unit again. I had unmedicated births both times.
“You can hire TENS through most hospitals – either the maternity ward or physio department. Do try it before labor though, because some people find them irritating”.
“Love my TENS machine! I used it from the first contractions until the second stage with all three natural births. I bought one before my first son was born, and it was a great investment.
“Others have borrowed it from me either for labor or for back pain. It can be a bit tricky getting the sticky pads on your back in the right place. Do a practice run with your support person beforehand and get used to how it works. That will also allow you to get used to the sensation of it.
“If you are in and out of the shower/bath, it can be a bit of a pain taking the TENS off and putting it back on. But that can’t be helped. I alternated between shower and TENS and found them both useful”.
Frangipani Lou says:
“Yes, I used a TENS machine and loved it. I ended up having a spontaneous, unplanned home birth on the couch at home and the TENS was really fab.
“I used it in conjunction with calm birth breathing and I’d had some panadeine earlier in the night. A wonderful experience”.
“Loved mine. Got me through the first 18 hours, and then the boost button stopped working. Unfortunately, both my husband and I forgot, in the moment, that we’d been told to change the batteries if that happened.
“I ended up opting for an epidural because I really needed that boost button working to cope with the pain, and without it I was not coping at all. I wonder what the outcome would have been if we’d remembered to change the batteries…”