Top Ten Facts about TENS machine use in Labour

As a midwife I love being able to empower women and their birth partners with some tangible advice about coping in early labour.

Sometimes having an actual “piece of kit” helps you to feel prepared, rather than trying to imagine if you’d like a bath or a massage when the surges begin. For this reason, I always advise women to do a bit of research about using a TENS machine: even having a go if possible, so that the sensation isn’t a surprise when labour begins. Here I’ve put together some information about this safe and easily accessible form of pain relief.

  1. Transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) has been used for pain relief during labour since the 1970s.
  2. TENS consists of a hand-held device connected to electrodes which are attached to the skin. Through these electrodes, mild electric pulses are sent along your nerves to the spinal cord and the brain. When using TENS, women experience a tingling sensation around the site of the electrodes.
  3. We don’t know exactly how TENS works, although there are a number of theories. One is that the electrical pulses preventpain signals from reaching thebrain, while another is that the pulses stimulate your body to release its own, natural, pain relieving substances, called endorphins.
  4. Most maternity hospitals do not provide TENS machine use. It’s a good idea to do some research about hiring one which can be done relatively inexpensively.
  5. TENS seems to work best and give you themost effective pain relief if you start using it at the very beginning of your labour
  6. It takes about an hour for your body to respond to the electrical impulses by releasing endorphins, so start using it when you’re getting regular surgesor backache. Start with at the lowest settings and turn them up gradually as your surges gets stronger. Use the boost button at the peak of the sensation. Don’t give up straight away if you think your TENS isn’t doing anything. You need to keep using it for at least an hour to give your body time to build up endorphins in response to the stimulation.
  7. An additional benefit of TENS usage is that you can keep moving while using it. An upright and mobile position is beneficialfor baby’s descent into the pelvis. It will also help your sense of control in labour.
  8. TENS as a pain relief does not have any adverse effects on women or their babies; there may some local skin irritation to the areas where the electrodes are applied. It is otherwise completely safe to use.
  9. You can use it for as long as you want and then take it off. There are no lasting side-effects.
  10. A TENS can be used in conjunction with other forms of pain relief like entanox (gas +air)

Antenatal Courses & Classes at The Baby Academy

I hope this is helpful! We’ll explore other forms of pain relief for labour in antenatal class. Looking forward to seeing you all!