TENS for labour

by Chelsie Doncon – Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist

So you’ve heard someone mention this little electrical device called TENS that gives pain relief in labour, that you can use at home and isn’t a medication. If you’re wondering what on earth it’s all about, read on!

What exactly is TENS?

Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) is when mild electrical impulses are transmitted by a machine, through electrode pads to the body. Don’t be alarmed, these impulses are small and feel like a tingling sensation on the skin. It’s all done through a small battery-operated machine that can be conveniently clipped onto your clothing or tucked into your pocket. The machine connects to four pads that are placed onto specific areas of your middle and lower back (see image below).

What does TENS actually do?

TENS is believed to work using the Pain Gate theory, essentially it works on the principle of distraction. During labour the dilating cervix and the contracting and fatiguing uterus are sending messages to the brain via the spinal cord, the brain picks up these messages and creates the sensation of pain.

TENS aims to stimulate the same nerve pathways as the uterus, cervix and perineum. This clever little trick helps to block some of the messages from the cervix and uterus getting to the brain and dulls the pain experienced. There is even a little ‘boost’ button on the machine that gives a little extra kick when you need it, such as during a contraction.

The advantages

  • Non-invasive
  • Easy application
  • Independent control of the device
  • Can be used before hospitalisation
  • Doesn’t restrict ability to move
  • No side effects for mum or baby
  • May delay the need for pain analgesia

The disadvantages

  • Cannot be used in water
  • Restricts the surface area for massage

However, you can always remove the machine and then reapply to a clear dry area.

Is there anyone who can’t use TENS?

If you have metal implants in the spine, pelvis or chest area, a pacemaker or damaged skin where the electrode pads need to be placed then unfortunately TENS isn’t considered safe to use.

How do you get a TENS machine for labour?

We recommend having a TENS machine ready to go from 36 weeks gestation, just in case your little one wants to make a slightly early entry into the world. You can purchase a TENS machine yourself or hire one.

Hiring TENS from One for Women

The hiring process is quick and easy, involving a short consult with one of our Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists. The cost of this appointment may be claimed on your Private Health Insurance pending your cover. The machine is hired for $10 per week, electrode pads are $15 dollars and yours to keep, and a $50 bond is required.

If you have elected to purchase a machine but would like some advice on how to use it, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with one of our Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists who would be happy to guide you.

The One For Women team wishes you all the best for your upcoming delivery!

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