Mother and Baby

Could A TENS Machine Work For You In Labour?

Section: Labour & Birth

If you are hoping to stick to natural pain relief during childbirth, a TENS machine might be the option for you

What is TENS?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – quite a mouthful!

How does it work?

You use four sticky pads with wires to attach the TENS to your lower back. The wires are attached to a controller, small enough to hold in your hand, although it usually comes with a clipper if you’d rather attach it to your clothes.

It sends out electrical impulses, which block the pain messages being sent to your brain and encourage your body to release endorphins – nature’s pain reliever.

For a small fee – about £20 to £30 a month – you can hire one to use at home from the National Childbirth Trust, or buy your own for around £50.

When would you use TENS?

You can use it to manage pain after 37 weeks of pregnancy, but mostly it’s used for early labour to help you get through the contractions. It’s best to switch it on as you feel a contraction starting, and switch it off when the contraction ends so you feel the benefit of the pain relief at your next contraction.

Why TENS might be right for you

  • It’s non-invasive – it doesn’t involve needles or tubes.
  • The machine is controlled by you alone. You can regulate the degree of stimulation, and will not have to be told when to push.
  • It’s completely safe for you and your baby.
  • You can stay active rather than being immobilised by drugs, or tubes attached to bleeping machines. Feel like rolling onto all fours or pacing about the room, perhaps grabbing the father by the lapels and giving him a good shake? Go for it!
  • You can be ‘present’ for the birth, rather than out of it on drugs.
  • There is no need for a recovery or ‘wearing-off’ period as with intravenous drugs.

Why TENS might not be right for you

To be most effective you would need to start using the TENS unit from the moment you feel the first twinge. This could be inconvenient – you may start to feel labour stings when you’re out and about or nowhere near the machine.

It does not completely eradicate labour pain the way an epidural does. Most women find they need another form of pain relief as labour progresses.
Results vary. Some women say it helps in the early stages of labour, others say they felt no pain reduction at all.

It’s electric, so if you want a water birth it can’t be used in the pool.

If you have a pacemaker, a heart rhythm problem or epilepsy, you should not use TENS.


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