Using a TENS during labor

What is a TENS unit?

A TENS is another tool we offer to help distract laboring women from labor pain without the use of pain meds. The TENS unit consists of two sets of lead wires that connect to four electrode pads. When turned on, the TENS emits mild bursts of electricity that are felt as a tingly sensation to the area where the electrodes are placed. The sensation serves as a distraction, it interrupts the pain response to the brain (similar to gate-theory with massage) and it may ease labor pain by helping the body to release endorphins. The laboring person wearing it controls the unit.

How is a TENS used?

Two electrode pads are placed on either side of the spine in two locations. Two are low on the back, near the SI joints and two are at mid-back, near the waist. This helps alleviate back pain as well as pain associated with labor contractions. The unit is turned on and the laboring woman uses buttons on the unit to increase the stimulation until she finds the level she wants. Our TENS unit is designed specifically for labor and has a boost button that may be pressed during a contraction which increases the stimulation pattern during contractions. Over time she will get used to the current level of stimulation and should continue to turn it up throughout her labor, as much as possible. TENS units have been found to be more helpful the sooner in labor they are used.

What are the benefits of using a TENS in labor?

A TENS machine does not completely mask or get rid of labor pain, but it provides a physical distraction, which changes the way your brain perceives pain and that is a very powerful tool. It also allows the laboring woman a sense of control since she is able to help herself through contractions by increasing the stimulation to her back, and by pressing the special boost button when a contraction begins. Using a TENS is completely drug free and can help reduce the laboring woman’s need for pain medication, or eliminate the need altogether. The TENS can be used in any position, keeping her free to move around as the need arises. The only place the TENS cannot be used is in the shower or bath, but the pads are reusable and can easily be reapplied once she is out of the water.

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