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  • Samantha McClellan

Using a TENS Unit During Labor

Updated: Nov 20, 2019


Have you ever heard about using a TENS Unit during birth? This is becoming an increasingly popular comfort measure during labor, especially for others who desire to avoid using pain medication.


TENS Units can be bought online or at your local drugstore for as little at $30. According to Evidenced Based Birth, "TENS consists of a handheld, portable device that is connected to electrodes. Electrodes typically come on these pads. This is a small pad, and this here is an example of a larger pad, both still in their packaging. You would connect the unit to those electrodes, either directly or sometimes using wires. You would then place the pads on the body. Through the electrodes, mild electrical pulses are sent through the skin and the body to the person’s spinal cord and brain.

When you’re using TENS during labor, you might feel a buzzing, tingling, or prickling sensation wherever the pads are placed. It’s easy to administer, and the person who is receiving the TENS can control the intensity of the sensation using the buttons on the device.

TENS during labor is most frequently applied to the lower back, on either side of the spine. Mothers can adjust the intensity of the TENS unit as needed during contractions. TENS can also be applied by trained specialists to acupuncture points. TENS can be used in combination with other non-drug and drug methods of pain relief – except with hydrotherapy, or water immersion. You shouldn’t be using it anywhere near water. It’s also not supposed to be used together with heat. TENS therapy can be stopped at any time and does not have any residual effects. For example, you could stop it if you wanted to get into the tub or remove the electrodes to have a back massage."


So how does TENS provide comfort during labor?


The first way is that the more positive sensation of buzzing or tingling tricks the bran by giving it something else to focus on and in turn reduces the sensation of pain associated with contractions. Secondly, when used at higher intensities the TENS can trigger the body to release more endorphins which naturally help to alleviate pain. Finally, the actual act of using the machine can provide a distraction for the laboring mother and help relieve anxiety by offering a sense of control.



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