Having a baby is a huge life event. It can be exciting, nerve-wracking, and overwhelming all at once. While you're busy preparing for labor and delivery, don't forget to think about pain-relief options. One option you may not have considered is using a TENS machine.
Here's what you need to know about using TENS in childbirth.
What is a TENS machine and how does it work?
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. TENS machines (or TENS units) are small and handheld electronic devices, often used by physiotherapists or purchased over-the-counter. TENS machines work by sending electric impulses to the source of pain through electrodes that are attached to the skin. These impulses help to block pain signals from reaching the brain while also stimulating endorphin production, which can provide natural pain relief. TENS machines can be used to relieve chronic or short-term pain caused by a variety of conditions, and they have been found effective in treating issues in muscles, nerves, and joints. They are known to alleviate pain during childbirth.
The benefits of using a TENS machine in childbirth
The device produces electrical pulses that stimulate the nerves, reducing labor pains. By prompting endorphins in the body, it can also help to produce natural analgesia, which assists with relaxation during contractions. Studies have found that using a TENS machine can help reduce the time between contractions, making the birthing process more efficient. In addition, this hand-held device increases a woman’s sense of control over her labor pain and reduces trauma by decreasing the need for other forms of pain relief. Ultimately, using a TENS machine gives women an empowering tool in the birth journey, allowing them to reap the health benefits without any negative side effects on either mother or baby.
How to use a TENS machine during childbirth
The TENS unit consists of a handheld controller and four electrodes that are placed on your lower back.
Using it is very simple:
- Make sure the unit is switched off before attaching the pads to the skin
- Place four electrodes on the back: two on both sides of the spine just under where the bra strap would be, and the other two where the dimples of the spine are on the lower back. Make sure they stick firmly to your skin
- Switch the machine on. Start with the lowest settings and increase gradually as your contractions become stronger
- Most TENS machines will have a boost button which may be used at the peak of every contraction
Always follow the manufacturer's specific instructions before using a TENS unit and talk to your healthcare professional.
The advantages of using a TENS machine over other pain-relief methods
TENS machines are highly effective, non-intrusive tools used to manage acute and chronic pain. Their versatility makes them an attractive option, since they offer far more control than many of the other pain relief methods available. People who seek a non-invasive way to manage their pain levels can discover TENS is inexpensive and reliable.
Disadvantages of using a TENS machine during childbirth
In general, if used correctly, TENS is safe and causes no complications or side effects. However, it may not be the right choice for you if you have a history of epilepsy, an irritable uterus, a history of early miscarriages, have had an abortion, if you have complications with the current pregnancy, or if you suffer from a heart rhythm problem or have a pacemaker.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of a TENS machine is to alleviate pain, not eliminate it. Additionally, using the machine does not reduce the intensity or length of labor itself.
TENS machines should not replace other childbirth prep techniques
You should do your best to prepare for labor ahead of time. There is a lot you can do to take control of your birth prep, including:
- A birth preparation class (such as hypnobirthing
- A thoughtful birth plan
- Practicing breathing techniques
- Prenatal yoga
- Perineal exercises
- Perineal massage (perineal massage on your own or with a partner)
Summary: Do what is right for you
Once you’ve educated yourself, you can choose what is right for you. Trust your instincts and listen to your body. If you opt to add a TENS machine to your maternity checklist, be sure to follow the instructions carefully and only use it under the guidance of a medical professional. Armed with information about your options, you can make an intelligent decision about what pain relief methods will work best for you during labor.