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How does a TENS machine relieve labour pain?

by Alison Gault

An obstetric TENS machine is one of the drug free pain relief options you can try during your labour.  There are no known risks associated with using this device when used correctly as long as there are no contraindications as listed below.  We stock an obstetric tens device that has been specifically designed to use in labour.  It has digital output for more specific control, an easy to read LCD screen, a button to increase signal strength during a contraction and the ability to alter the signal of the two electrode leads to customise the impulse to exactly how you need it.

What does the tens machine do?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. In plain english, this means that the device stimulates nerves by passing an electrical signal through the skin. Devices have either self adhesive electrodes or electrodes you need to put a conducting gel on and fix to the skin with tape.   You are able to customise the strength and mode of output of the electrical impulses to suit your needs and your stage of labour.

How the tens machine works to ease labour pain

The tens machine helps to naturally control your pain levels by stimulating the release of the feel good endorphins.  These neurotransmitters effect the brain in a similar way to opiates such as morphine do.  The most prominent effects are pain relief and inducing a sense of well being.

At the spinal level, the presence of the hormone endorphin prevents the nerves from conducting the message of pain up to the brain. This ultimately means that you don’t experience the pain or only a dulled down version of it.

The other pain relieving function of the tens machine is that it introduces a different sensation to the areas that you are feeling pain.  This can distract your nervous system and can be a relieving sensation.  You can compare this to when you bump a body part and naturally rub or hold the area.  This contact stimulates another part of your nervous system and reduces the pain impulses.

How to use a tens machine during labour

It is best to start using the device from the onset of early labour to stimulate the release of endorphins to ensure a high level in the later stages of labour when you need them the most.  You can use the tens machine in conjunction with other labour pain reliving options such as heat or cold packs, gas and pethidine. You cannot however use the device in the bath, birthing pool or shower.

Simply attach the electrode onto the skin in the areas that you are finding uncomfortable whether it be your back, pelvis or abdomen.
It is best to start with the lower intensity impulses at the onset of labour and increase as required. Specific obstetric tens devices often have a hand held button to use during a contraction to give you a burst of increased intensity and a continuous impulse.

You can also use the tens machine after labour including during breastfeeding to ease uterine contractions.

It is a good idea to have a go at using the machine before the ‘big day’ so you are familiar the the device, sensation and functions.. Do not use it before 37 weeks of pregnancy unless advised by you medical practitioner.

What do you need to take to the hospital for the tens machine?

  • The tens machine itself
  • The electrodes
  • The instructions. It is best to be familiar with the machine prior to labour but knowing the effects of pregnancy brain and stress, you may need a reminder on the day. You may also prefer to write out your own version of the instructions in your own language so they are easier for you to understand.
  • A spare set of self electrodes in case the included set loose their stick from sweat or repeatedly taking them on and off to use water.
  • A spare set of batteries
  • Conduction gel if your electrodes are not self adhesive
  • Medical tape if your electrodes are not self adhesive. The white tape from the chemist that feels like paper is the best.
  • The leads


Contraindications for use of the Tens machine

It is best to speak to your midwife, GP or Obstetrician to check that the tens machine is suitable for you.  It is not recommended that you use a tens machine for in pregnancy pain relief until after 37 weeks unless you are supervised by a medical professional.

You definitely shouldn’t use the tens machine if you have:

  • A pacemaker
  • A defibrilator
  • A metal plate or pin

There is some literature that recommends you avoid a tens if you have:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy

The information provided in this post is of a general nature and for educational purposes.  This information does not replace professional medical assessment and advice.  We strongly recommend contacting a medical professional if you are experiencing any unusual or new symptoms.

Please refer to our disclaimer and terms of service.

By |2015-03-20T00:38:15+00:00March 27th, 2015|News|0 Comments

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