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TENS for Labor Pain: Is the Treatment Option Safe and Effective?

A standing pregnant woman touching her abdomen

Pain during labor is one of the most intense and challenging types of pain a woman can experience. It necessitates effective pain management techniques to relieve the mother. One option that has gained popularity over the years is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS for labor pain. It is safe because it offers natural pain relief by stimulating nerves and releasing endorphins. Moreover, it alleviates discomfort effectively by blocking pain signals from getting to the brain.

TENS utilises a portable device that emits low-level electrical pulses. People can choose from handheld or wireless models, depending on their needs and wants. Unlike other forms of pain relief, like epidurals or opioids, TENS does not involve any medication or invasive procedures. Hence, expectant mothers can use TENS with minimal to no concerns about potential side effects or risks to the baby. The article will present how TENS works, how to apply it, and the safety precautions to consider.

How a TENS for Labor Pain Works

TENS for labour pain is a non-invasive technique. It sends mild electrical currents through the skin to disrupt the pain signals being sent to the brain. Pregnant women or their birth partners must place one or two pairs of electrodes on the lower back. Then, they can adjust the TENS machines to the comfort level of the expectant mother.

The electrical impulses released by the TENS unit stimulate the nerves in the area. Subsequently, this aids in blocking pain messages from reaching the brain. Additionally, TENS may trigger the release of endorphins. These are the natural pain relievers of the body. This can provide a sense of relief for the mother and help to manage the intensity of labour pains.

Moreover, the gentle tingling sensation from TENS can help distract the pregnant individual from the pain during labour. Furthermore, this is one of the methods of pain relief that improves blood circulation and promotes relaxation. It also allows the woman to remain mobile during labour, as TENS does not restrict movement like other pain relief options such as epidurals.

Low and High Frequencies

Low-Frequency TENS:

  • Ranges from 2-5 Hz.
  • Referred to as motor-level stimulation.
  • Triggers endorphin production, which helps to alleviate labour pain naturally.
  • Low TENS is effective for pain relief during the early stages of labour.
  • Provides a gentle, massage-like sensation.
  • The effect may take a while, but it is long-lasting.

High-Frequency TENS:

  • Ranges from 50-120 Hz.
  • Referred to as sensory-level stimulation.
  • Stimulates the nerves to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain.
  • It is ideal for targeting acute pain during active labour.
  • The higher frequency creates a stronger, more noticeable sensation.
  • This offers immediate relief but may not be long-lasting.

A TENS kit with refillable gel pad pack and necessary information

How to Apply TENS for Labor Pain

Before applying TENS for labour pain, clean the skin by gently wiping it with a mild soap and water solution. This step is essential to ensure proper adhesion of the TENS electrodes and maintain hygiene during labour. Then, place the pads on the lower back. The electrode site should be on either side of the spinal cord, not directly over it.

Once the pads are secured, turn on the TENS device. Pregnant women in labour can adjust the settings until the pain sensation lessens. However, they must begin with the lowest setting to avoid electric shocks. Also, they can choose from various modes, such as continuous, burst, or modulation, to find the most effective pain relief. This customisation allows them to feel a sense of control over pain relief.

Use TENS for 20 to 30 minutes. Afterwards, turn off the machine and remove the electrode pads. It is crucial to note that TENS does not eliminate labour pain but only helps manage it and make it more bearable. Consult a medical professional before undergoing TENS therapy. Additionally, always follow the instructions to ensure proper usage.

Proper Electrode Placement Guide

Proper TENS pad placement is vital to achieve relief during labour. It is advisable to place the electrodes on the lower back, specifically around the sacral and lumbar regions. The electrodes should cover the areas where the pain is felt most during labour contractions. Also, they must be symmetrically on both sides of the body.

In addition, placement guides suggest avoiding attaching the electrode pads directly on the spine or over bony prominences, as this can cause discomfort or skin irritation. Moreover, people should not apply them on broken skin because it can lead to further irritation or infection.

A pack of refillable gel pads for TENS

Safety Precautions When Undergoing TENS for Labor Pain

Prioritising safety precautions is essential when undergoing TENS for labour pain. TENS is one of the most effective forms of pain management. Nevertheless, pregnant women must consult a health expert regarding its use. They can guide on the proper usage of the TENS machine during labour. Additionally, they can advise regarding any potential risks to be aware of.

Moreover, remove the dirt and dust on the electrode pads before using them. Cleanliness helps prevent any infections or irritations that may occur during the birth experience. Similarly, check the electrodes regularly to see if they are in good working condition. Replace any damaged or worn-out pads to ensure the effectiveness of the natural pain relief method.

Individuals doing water births can still operate a TENS machine. However, it must only used before or after submerging into the birth pool. Otherwise, there is a risk of electric shock. Also, this alternative method of pain relief can relax and ease users. Still, avoiding TENS use while sleeping is crucial because monitoring the machine during sleep can be difficult.

When Not to Use?

TENS can lessen the pain of contractions. However, it may not be suitable for everyone. Pregnant women with a history of epilepsy or seizures should avoid using TENS, as the electrical stimulation could potentially trigger a seizure. Additionally, those with a cardiac pacemaker should not use TENS. Otherwise, the electrical signals could interfere with the function of the pacemaker.

Also, it is best not to use TENS during vaginal deliveries because it may interfere with the monitoring devices and equipment used. It can be difficult for healthcare providers to properly assess the well-being of both the mother and the baby.


TENS for labour pain is safe. Nevertheless, consulting a healthcare provider is essential before its use. It uses a battery-operated device that sends low-voltage electrical currents to the body. The pulses from TENS stimulate the nerves to reduce the perception of pain. Through pain gating and endorphin release, pregnant women receive labour pain relief. This non-invasive technique can easily be applied by placing electrodes on the lower back. Then, people can adjust the settings for optimal results.

When using the electrical nerve stimulation device, it is essential to follow safety precautions. For instance, clean and replace the pads as necessary to prevent infection. Also, avoid operating the machine in water because it may cause an electric shock. Furthermore, there are situations where it is best not to administer TENS. With proper guidance and usage, TENS is an effective method for pain relief. Individuals can check iTENS from iTENS Australia for wireless units.

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