Mother and Baby

TENS Machines: Everything You Need To Know

Argh! Your due date is just around the corner and like every first-time mum, the thought of giving birth is terrifying. Can a TENS machine really eradicate pain and improve labour? We’ve got all the information to work out if a TENS could be your birth best friend…

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The electrical pulses interfere with the pain messages being sent to the brain

What is a TENS machine?

TENS actually stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which is a bit of a mouthful, so you can see why it’s been shortened. It’s small portable device that delivers tiny electrical shocks to the body.

How does it work?

The electrical pulses interfere with the pain messages being sent to the brain, which is why a TENS machine can be an effective form of pain relief during the early stages of labour – so by that we mean the time between your waters breaking and actually arriving at hospital. It’s a no-no during pregnancy. But it can also offer pain relief after birth, too.

 A TENS machine is a way of administering your own bespoke pain relief without drugs – although we should mention that you can’t use them in water, so they’ll be of no help if you’re having a water birth.

How do you use a TENS machine?

Firstly, you must follow the instructions! Place the electrode patches on clean skin at the location of the pain. The patches are usually attached to the machine with wires and depending on the type of machine, you may have to use conductive gel too. The machine will usually start pulsing at around 80Hz. If your pain sharpens, you can then increase the pulses. After a period of time you may experience ‘accommodation’, which is when your body adjusts to the pain and you can then increase the pulses again.

Does it work?

Research into the effectiveness of TENS machines has always produced inconclusive results. Some mums swear they relied on theirs during labour, but others didn’t feel any benefits. Most reviews suggest that they are good at helping deal with pain but they don’t delete it completely. However, if you’re committed to having a drug-free birth, it might put you at ease to have one nearby. If you're unsure, take our quiz to find out which labour pain-relief is right for you.

How much do they cost?

TENS machines used to be really expensive, but you can now pick one up for around £50 or less. As you will probably only use the machine once, many shops now include a hire option. Four weeks hire will set you back around£25, which can cut costs further.

Where can I get one?

All high-street retailers now offer them, although we found some bargains online too.

Check out our gallery of TENS machines to try and find the right one for you


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