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Professionally endorsed

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TENS Labor: How To Operate For Safe And Effective Use

A man massaging the feet of a pregnant woman

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a form of pain relief often used for managing chronic pain. TENS for labor is also one of the drug-free methods of pain relief during childbirth. The device delivers low-voltage electrical currents to the body through the skin. For safe and effective use, place the electrode pads on the lower back and adjust the settings gradually. It is vital to avoid sensitive areas like the abdomen.

The use of TENS therapy during childbirth can help laboring women focus on their delivery rather than the pain. It can be used with other pain relief methods, such as massage and relaxation techniques, to maximise their benefits. Moreover, it helps minimise the need for pain medications or intrusive procedures like epidurals. In this article, we will present how TENS works to relieve pain, how to operate the device and safety precaution guidelines.

How TENS in Labor Works

TENS in labor works based on the principles of electrical stimulation therapy. It applies electrical impulses to the body to stimulate the sensory nerve endings. Firstly, the pulses interfere with pain signals passing through the spinal cord to reach the brain. This mechanism is based on the Gate Control Theory of Pain. By closing the gating channels, the brain receives fewer signals, resulting in a reduction in pain.

Secondly, the TENS machine stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Endorphins inhibit the nerve cells from sending pain messages to the brain. In addition, the hormones can help reduce stress and anxiety levels during childbirth. This leads to the alleviation of labor pain.

Additionally, the pulses or tingling sensations of the device can distract the brain from the pain of contractions. Furthermore, TENS can help to reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation. Overall, it helps women cope with pain during labor by providing natural pain relief, distraction, reduced stress, and enhanced relaxation.

Benefits of Using the Device

  • A TENS unit is a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain management.
  • TENS can help diminish the intensity of labor contractions.
  • The pulses can help distract the brain, reducing the perception of pain.
  • It provides women with a sense of control over their pain relief. The machine has programmable settings that expectant mothers can adjust according to their level of pain.
  • Many labor TENS machines have intuitive controls that are easily accessible during contractions. Thus, it does not involve complicated procedures to get instant relief.
  • A TENS machine does not hinder the birthing process.
  • It is proven safe for the mother and the baby.

Operating a TENS machine through the app

How to Use TENS in Labor

When using TENS for labor, first, know the proper pad positioning. When labor starts, place two pairs of electrodes on the lower back on either side of the spine. A birth partner or midwife may assist in the placement of the pads. Then, turn on the unit and adjust the intensity, frequency, and pulse duration.

Healthcare professionals recommend starting with the lowest intensity level for safe use. This allows the body to adjust to the effects of electrical nerve stimulation and prevent sudden shocks. Then, gradually increase the intensity as the labor progresses. It is important to monitor the body’s response to the stimulation.

For devices with a boost button, women may press it for a few seconds to help combat peak contractions. This temporarily provides a surge of power without having to manually modify the settings. Additionally, a constant pulse of 50 Hz and above offers maximum sensory stimulation for pain gating effect. Individuals may keep on trying different frequency settings to find the most effective effects.

At What Stage of Labor Can the Device Be Used

Studies show that TENS therapy is most effective during the first stages of labor. This is when the contractions start and are still mild to moderate. Thus, using TENS in the early phase allows the body plenty of time to produce endorphins. This can help keep the pain to a minimum.

Furthermore, the device is safe to use throughout the delivery. Women may also find TENS to be helpful, especially if they prefer to delay the use of additional pain relief options. However, it is not advisable to start TENS during active labor as the effects may not be as noticeable.

iTENS wireless pads in small and large sizes

Safety Precautions When Using TENS in Labor

Following safety precautions is of utmost importance when using TENS for labor. Firstly, it is essential to consult an obstetrician to determine if TENS therapy is safe for the individual. This is because the therapy is not suitable for people with heart conditions, epilepsy, irritable uterus, electrical implants, and a history of miscarriage.

Secondly, do not place the electrode pads on the abdomen at any time during early pregnancy to labor. This precautionary measure helps reduce any potential risks of electrical pulses to the foetus. Additionally, stay within a comfortable range. If the mother experiences any adverse effects, such as skin irritation or an increase in pain, discontinue the use of the device immediately.

Thirdly, do not use the TENS device in a birth pool or while showering. Make sure to turn off the unit and remove the pads before entering the water. Finally, inspect the device before use. Make sure that the wires are secured, the batteries are fresh, and the electrode pads are new for optimal adhesion.

Sensitive Areas to Avoid

Aside from the pregnant belly, it is crucial to avoid other sensitive areas of the body. Generally, do not place the electrodes on the head, face, throat, chest area, and spinal column. TENS in these regions may stimulate sensitive nerves or tissues and cause discomfort or damage.

Moreover, avoid placing the pads on open sores, broken skin, infected skin, and numb areas. Doing so may further irritate the skin and delay the healing process of wounds. It is vital to keep the skin clean and dry before applying the electrodes. It is best to consult a doctor for guidance and advice.


TENS therapy is an effective option for providing labor pain relief. The machine is portable and easy to use. It delivers mild electrical currents to stimulate the nerves and reduce the intensity of contractions. Additionally, it gives pregnant women a sense of control over pain relief. However, it is vital to follow the usage and safety guidelines in using TENS for labor. It includes knowing the proper pad placement, when to use the device, and adjusting the settings.

Furthermore, do not use the TENS unit on the abdomen and other sensitive areas. Also, keep the device away from water. By following these measures, women can experience safe and effective relief from pain during labour. Finally, consult a healthcare professional before use for advice. TENS machines are available over the counter or online. It is also suitable for other conditions, like endometriosis, pelvic floor stimulation, arthritis, neck pain, and lower back pain.

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