How TENS machines work

Advice on the pros and cons of using TENS machines to relieve pain during child birth, plus the opportunity to purchase a range of TENS machines.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine is a machine consisting of four pads with electrodes connected by wires to a battery operated pulsar. The pads are stuck onto your back (2 below your bra line and 2 above the panty line). Using a hand held control, you give yourself weak electric currents which then travel through to the points where you have the electrodes.

TENS machines are specially designed to combat pain during childbirth. The stimulation from a TENS machine, which feels like 'pins and needles', affects the way pain signals are sent to the brain. Pain signals reach the brain via sensory nerves and the spinal cord. If pain signals can be blocked then the brain will receive fewer signals from the source of the pain. Just like a gate not letting anything pass. They also stimulate your body to produce higher levels of its own natural pain killers called 'endorphins' .

TENS machines are thought to work in two ways.
  • When the machine is set on a high pulse rate it triggers the 'pain gate' to close. This is thought to block a pain nerve pathway to the brain. This is the normal method of use.
  • When the machine is set on a low pulse rate it stimulates the body to make its own pain easing chemicals called endorphins. These act a bit like morphine to block pain signals. li>
Benefits of TENS machines are that they are:
  • Totally safe and drug free
  • You are in control
  • You can continue to be mobile while using it
  • It allows you to use other drugs such as pethadine or gas and air
  • It is every effective if used from the onset of labour. Once the correct strength of the current has been set, the effects can be felt immediately.
  • No side effects in the baby
  • No side effects in you
Most hospitals do not provide a TENS machine. You will need to confirm this with either your midwife or the hospital directly well in advance. You can hire a TENS machine which can be delivered to your door two weeks before your expected due date. If you are planning to use TENS for pain relief during labour, it is recommend that you book your machine at least a month before your due date. You can of course purchase a TENS machine, choose from many companies advertising on the internet.

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