What is TENS?
TENS stands for, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. TENS is a safe, non-pharmaceutical method of pain control, and can be helpful for a women in labor.
A TENS unit is a hand-held, battery operated device that connects lead wires to four stimulating pads that are placed on the laboring woman*s back. It's electrical impulses stimulate nerve fibers just under the skin creating a prickly, or tingling type of sensation.
Studies have shown that women were less likely to use an epidural with the TENS unit, and were more likely to use one again in the future. A study that investigated the use of TENS for back pain in labor found that "Tens has a specific beneficial effect on pain localized in the back."
(Ref - Bundsen, et al , 1981; Carroll, et al, 1997; Thomas et al, 1988)
Most women who use a TENS in labor are likely to use the TENS for their next labor and birth. Like laboring in a tub, TENS is not going to work for everyone, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to offer it to every laboring mother? This is my client's favorite thing from my doula bag!
Thank you Valerie Lopez and Jamie Cain Photography and Christy Stich Portraits for the great pictures!
How does it work?
A TENS unit works in two ways: First, by creating gate control, as the stimulation travels faster to the brain than the discomfort of the contractions, and secondly it increases natural endorphins. If you’ve taken my classes, then you probably understand "gate control"!
The purpose of using a TENS unit in labor are:
~Reduction of labor pain, particularly back labor.
~Freedom to walk and move
~Control of its use by the mother in labor
~No loss of other sensations
~No decrease in mental function
~Continued active participation by the laboring mother
~Postponement of request for epidural
A TENS unit can NOT be used:
On open wounds that would interfere with the placement of pads
If the mother has history of epilepsy or seizures
If the mother has a pace maker
While laboring in water (but these are easily taken on and off before and after water use)
With an epidural or if the mother has an internal fetal monitor (external fetal monitoring is fine)
Before the 37th week of pregnancy (unless labor has begun)
“I started the TENS in very early labor: the TENS helped relax tense muscles from the stress of being induced. Once labor really hit, even in transition, I used the TENS boost button with each contraction. It was a great distraction that helped me feel a bit more in-control during labor. I plan to use a TENS unit with my next baby and I would highly recommend it to any pregnant mom. Why would you not want as many options as possible in your bag of tricks for labor? By having several comfort measure options, you can find what works for you. Plus, you never know when your plans could change (i.e. can’t labor in the tub after all), so the more options the better.”
- Paige M.
“I found the TENS to truly help with pain control during labor. I will recommend it to all pregnant mom's.
I wish we knew about it during the labor of our first son!”
“I will definitely use a TENS with my next baby! The TENS helped me get through each stage of labor. It really took down the intensity of the contractions, and gave me a sense of control during my labor.”