Pain relief for your labour without drugs - What is TENS?

What is a TENS machine?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and provides drug-free pain relief. This can be used for all sorts of pain but has been found to be especially effective for pain during labour when using a specialised obstetric TENS machine.

A TENS machine sends small, safe pulses of electrical current via leads to electrode pads which are attached to your skin and held in place by a firm gel. The pulses pass through your skin and into your muscles and tissues. This gives you a gentle tingling or buzzing sensation. The intensity of pulses can be increased or lowered based on the pain being experienced.

How does a TENS machine reduce pain?

The TENS machine works to reduce your experience of pain a number of ways.

  • Electrical pulses from a TENS machine prevent pain signals reaching the brain.
  • TENS pulses release natural feel-good substances call endorphins, your body’s own natural morphine-like pain killers.  
  • It helps you feel in control of labour and feel less anxious.
  • It offers a distraction from contractions.

What does TENS feel like?

Many women describe the feeling of TENS as a tingling, or buzzing sensation. The obstetric TENS has specialised waves of this sensation that feels similar to a rumbling massage on your lower back.

When used correctly the TENS should never been painful, although the device is very powerful and can be uncomfortable if ramped up to a high setting too quickly. Correct use involves slowly increasing the intensity of the pulses as your brain readjusts to the sensation.

When should I use a TENS machine?

You can use TENS from the very beginning of your labour. You could start using it when you’re getting regular contractions or backache. TENS is most likely to be effective in early labour, and is most effectively used during later stages of labour when applied early.

How do I use a TENS machine while in labour?

A step by step guide to using a TENS machine during labour:

  • Check the machine is turned off before placing the pads on your back. It’s best to have another person such as your birth partner place the pads on your back for you.
  • Place two of the electrode pads on either side of your spine, with the tops of the pads at about bra-strap level.
  • Place the other two lower down, from just below your panty line up.
  • Switch the machine on, starting with the controls at the lowest setting.
  • Turn them up gradually as your contractions get stronger, or when the pain in your back gets worse.
  • Press the boost button during contractions. The boost function results in more intense, wave-like tingling or buzzing sensations.
  • Remember to turn off the boost button again when the contraction has ended. This is so you feel the benefit of the boost next time you have a contraction.
  • Keep mobile. Moving around during labour helps you to feel in control and will make TENS more effective.
  • Don’t give up straight away if you think TENS isn’t doing anything. You may need to keep using it for at least an hour before it starts to work for you.
  • If the pads start to lose their stickiness, rub a few drops of water into the gel side of the pads before putting them back on. The more firmly the pads are stuck on, the better they’ll work.
  • If you don’t think the pads are helping you after a while, take them off. You are in control of your labour and what is working for you. All other forms of pain relief, both medical and non-medical, are still open to you.

When shouldn’t I use a TENS Machine?

Never use a TENS machine under the following circumstances, without talking to a midwife or doctor first:

  • Before you are 36 weeks pregnant.
  • When you’re in a shower, bath, or birth pool.
  • If you have broken skin or a healing scar where you want to place the pads.
  • If you have a cardiac pacemaker or a heart rhythm problem.
  • If you have pain that you don’t think is labour pain. See your doctor or midwife if this is the case.
  • On another part of your body than your lower back as pictures in the instruction manual.

What are the advantages of a TENS machine?

  • You can keep moving around while using it.
  • You can use it for as long as you want to and take it off if you want or need to.
  • There are no lasting side-effects.
  • It's safe for you and your baby.
  • You don't need an anaesthetist, doctor or midwife to help you use it.
  • It can be used for a home birth.
  • It's portable and non-invasive.
  • You control it.
  • It's easy to use.

What are the disadvantages of a TENS machine?

  • You probably won’t be able to put the pads in place without help.
  • You may find it only gives you relief in the early stages of labour.
  • TENS can’t be used in water, though you can still use it before you get in a bath or birth pool.
  • If you want your birth partner to massage your back, they will have to work around the pads.
  • You will not be able to use a heat pack on your back as it will erode the stickiness of the pads, you can use a heat pack on your lower abdomen instead

Take control of your birth experience

Having a TENS machine on hand during your labour gives you choices and control during your labour.

Hire a TENS now for 4 or 8 weeks with return postage included, or pre-book for your labour here.

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