TENS for use in Labour

Advice on using Obstetric TENS machines to provide pain relief during labour.
Why Use TENS?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. TENS is a drug free, non-invasive pain relief method that is safe to use for both mother and baby. TENS is highly recommended by midwives and widely used during childbirth in the UK. It is a background level of pain relief to which other pain relief methods can be added, although some mothers use only TENS throughout their labour. There are no harmful side effects and as a result babies are born more awake and responsive than those whose mothers have used strong drugs for pain relief. This allows for quicker bonding and consequently breastfeeding difficulties are less likely.

How does TENS work?

Four electrodes (self-adhesive pads) are attached to the back. The TENS machine (a small battery operated unit) emits low frequency electronic impulses through the skin to block the pain signals carried to the brain, thereby reducing pain experienced. It also encourages the brain to produce the bodies own pain killing hormones, called endorphins. TENS machines for childbirth have two currents, or modes of operation. One current is used when resting between contractions and a stronger current is used during a contraction. A hand held boost switch is pressed to change the current between resting and contraction modes. The TENS machine is fully portable allowing the mother to be mobile throughout her labour.

When do I Start Using TENS?

TENS is most effective when it is used in early labour at home. The longer the delay the less effective the stimulator becomes. This allows for an early build up of endorphins.

What do I look for from an Obstetric TENS Machine?

TENS units designed for use in childbirth are duel channel. Each channel has a lead wire which attaches to two electrodes. The first two electrodes are placed on the middle part of the back and parallel to the spine. The second pair are placed on the lower part of the back, once again parallel to the spine. There will be a hand held boost control to switch between the two modes of operation. Some obstetric TENS machines are preset and some are fully adjustable. Fully adjustable machines allow the mother to increase the width, rate and the intensity of the electrical impulse in line with her individual requirements during labour.

Why hire a TENS?

Some hospitals and midwives have a small supply of TENS machines but availability can not be guaranteed and the machine is unlikely to be available for early labour at home, when it is most effective. By hiring a TENS machine you will receive your machine three weeks before your due date in readiness for the birth. This allows time to familiarise yourself and your birthing partner with the machine and the way it works.

Safety issues
  • Only use TENS from 37 weeks of pregnancy. Earlier use should be discussed with your obstetrician.
  • Electrodes should not be placed on the abdomen at any time during pregnancy or labour.
  • Do not use TENS when driving, cycling or operating machinery.
  • If you have a pacemaker, epilepsy, have or are suspected of having heart disease, seek medical advice.
  • TENS can not be used in the shower or birthing pool.
Author : Tracey Johnson

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