Reduce your Labor Pain with a TENS Unit

TENS unit rentals for birth

A portable, non-invasive, inexpensive labor pain relief that allows you to be in control? Sign me up!

TENS units are now available in the US.  TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator. Since the 1970’s women in the UK and Canada have been using TENS units for pain management during childbirth. In fact, in the UK nearly 1 in 5 women have used TENS in their labor.  Today women have more access than ever to them and are including them in their comfort measures plan.  TENS can be a terrific, low-risk option for you and your birth no matter what type of birth you choose. It’s completely natural and perfectly safe for mothers and their babies.

How it works

A TENS unit is a handheld machine, connected by wires to electrodes that stick to the skin on your back. TENS works by sending low voltage electrical nerve stimulation through the electrodes, up the spinal column to the brain stem.   The electrical pulses stimulate nerve pathways that reduce or block the transmission of pain.  Distractions from a TENS unit are helpful in reducing medications but it doesn’t take away all the sensations of contractions. Rather, it essentially interrupts the pain signals your brain is receiving, reducing your awareness of the pain, and helping your body to produce endorphins that allow you to cope better.

TENS are commonly used in physical and occupational therapy, especially by people who suffer from chronic pain, such as back pain, dental pain, and even arthritis. However, they also are effective with acute short-term pain like in childbirth and menstrual pain.

Why it’s a game-changer

TENS units are great because they allow you, as a laboring mother to stay in control.  By minimizing pain, you will be able to labor in any position you want. The sensation from the electrodes is similar to a light buzzing or prickling.  Each unit allows you to control the type of sensation as well as its intensity so that you can adjust as labor changes.  Obstetrical TENS units do not interfere with electronic fetal monitoring, so it’s fine to use when laboring in a hospital setting. Other benefits to TENS include the fact that it does not require a medical professional to administer, there are no side effects for you or your baby, and that it can be put on or taken off at any point during your labor. TENS units are especially good for back labor; research shows that TENS is most effective when it is started at home in early labor and then continued throughout the labor process.

TENS units appeal to people who are planning unmedicated birth as well as those who just want multiple options of pain relief during labor prior to getting an epidural. Many people find it beneficial mentally, as it provides another sensation to concentrate on during contractions. TENS can also help women feel more in control of their labor.

Meghann Kang shares ” The TENS unit was a complete game-changer. It allowed me to feel like I had some control in managing the intense back pain that accompanies my contractions.”

Where to get one

If you want to use the TENS unit during your birth, you buy or rent one.  However, they can be expensive and confusing to purchase. Therefor renting a unit specifically designed for labor use is the best way to experience a TENS unit. Whether you end up trying this little-known choice, becoming informed about TENS, and your other options for pain relief will help you feel knowledgeable and empowered during your birth experience.

Who should not use a TENS unit?

There aren’t many downsides to using the TENS during birth, other than the fact that its effects can vary widely from person to person. Studies are inconclusive regarding exactly how and why it works, and why it might work very well for some people and not at all for others. Still, in a Cochrane review of evidence regarding TENS, the majority of women who used it said they would use it again in future labor.

The use of TENS is not recommended for people who have pacemakers or epilepsy. The pads should be latex-free and should not be placed on pen skin. Additionally, since water and electricity should not be used together, so it can’t be used while you are in a shower or a bath.


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