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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Machine for Labour: Complete Labour TENS Safety Guide

A pregnant woman sitting down and holding her stomach

Many women experience pain and discomfort during labour. While there are various pain relief options available, a modern and non-invasive method is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It involves the use of a small device called a TENS machine that delivers gentle electrical pulses to the body to ease pain. Numerous studies have shown the safety and efficacy of the use of TENS machines for labour. Users have to be precise about the electrode placement and pulse settings.

The severity of labour pain can differ among women, prompting the need for different levels of pain relief. Nevertheless, women experience contractions to a lesser or greater degree. For those who need maximal relief, a TENS machine can help ease contraction pains. It is not only a drug-free pain relief option, but it also minimises the need for intrusive procedures. This article will provide a complete guide on the use of TENS for labour and safety precautions.

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An Overview of TENS Machines for Labour

TENS is a battery-powered machine consisting of a handheld control unit and pairs of electrodes. The device sends low-voltage electrical currents to the body to relieve pain. It is often used for acute pain and chronic pain management but also has proven benefits during labour. However, it is important for pregnant women to consult a health provider before using a TENS machine for labour.

During labour, TENS machines are highly effective in providing natural pain relief. Maternity TENS machines are designed specifically to provide relief during contractions and can be easily used at home or in a hospital setting. Additionally, TENS is safe for both the mother and the baby, as it offers an effective, non-invasive, portable pain relief solution.

When considering TENS, it is vital to have a birth partner who can assist in putting on the sticky pads and ensuring the device is set up correctly. It is also wise to secure a device before the expected delivery date. Some hospitals may offer a TENS machine, while other women may need to hire or buy a new one.

Understanding Labour Pain

  • Generally, pain is a complex physiological process that occurs when sensory nerve endings called nociceptors come into contact with a painful stimulus.
  • In labour, the muscles of the uterus contract to push the baby through the birth canal.
  • In early labour, the cervix dilates and effaces, and women might feel mild and irregular contractions.
  • Pregnant women may also feel a low, dull back pain accompanied by period-like cramps.
  • The pain typically starts in the lower back and moves towards the front of the abdomen.
  • During active labour, the contractions become stronger, closer together, and regular. Women may feel nausea and increasing pressure in the back.

A pregnant woman leaning on a sofa

Is a TENS Machine for Labour Safe for Pregnant Women?

Many pregnant women may have concerns about the safety of TENS machines for labour. TENS is a non-pharmaceutical pain management tool that helps reduce labour pain and shorten the duration of the active phase. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with other methods. When applied correctly, TENS machines are a safe pain relief option during childbirth.

Unlike medications or anaesthetics, TENS machines do not have adverse side effects, making them a preferred choice for many women. Moreover, TENS machines are non-invasive. The electrical impulses from the device are safe and gentle, which helps reduce the sensation of pain. This makes TENS a viable alternative for drugs.

One of the main advantages of labour TENS machines is they give women some control over pain relief. They can adjust the intensity of the electric currents to suit their pain levels. Furthermore, they are portable devices that enable women to move around to find more comfortable positions. Overall, the use of TENS machines is safe and has no known significant risks.

Relevant Studies

Numerous clinical trials have shown the safety of TENS devices for labour pain management. One study concludes that TENS therapy is a reliable pain relief method with comparable efficacy to analgesics. Additionally, it has significantly lower risks and complications compared to pethidine, a strong opioid medicine.

Nevertheless, health professionals should personalise TENS therapy according to the Body Mass Index (BMI) and other individual factors. This is to ensure optimal pain relief and minimise any potential risks. Lastly, the ease of use for self-administration and reduced cost make TENS an ideal choice for natural methods of pain relief during labour.

A female newscaster reporting about TENS

How Does a TENS Machine for Labour Provide Pain Relief?

A TENS machine works using the principles of electrical stimulation. It delivers electrical impulses through the electrodes placed on the skin. These pulses activate the natural mechanisms of the body against pain. Firstly, the adjustable settings of the device allow users to control the stimulation patterns. The ability to modulate the intensity and frequency of the currents allows for a tailored pain management experience.

Secondly, TENS inhibits the nerves responsible for transmitting chemical messages to the brain. By interrupting the pain signals, TENS machines provide immediate relief, allowing women to manage their labour pain more effectively. Also, the gentle electrical pulses help distract the brain from the pain of contractions.

Lastly, TENS machines induce the production of natural painkillers like endorphins. Endorphins are natural hormones with analgesic properties. They also help to reduce anxiety and stress while promoting a positive birth experience. Therefore, using a TENS machine for labour allows women to effectively manage their pain according to their individual needs for optimal relief.

Mechanisms of Action

The mechanisms of action of TENS therapy involve the activation of three key factors: modulation of pain signals, promotion of natural pain relief, and the increase of blood circulation. The first mechanism is the closure of the pain-gating mechanisms. The electrical impulses target the sensory nerves that control the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Another method is triggering the release of endorphins. Endorphins inhibit the nerve cells from sending pain messages. They also induce feelings of relaxation and pleasure. Finally, TENS helps boost blood circulation. This helps deliver more oxygen supply to the targeted area, which can reduce inflammation and discomfort from contractions.

A pregnant woman waiting in a hospital

Benefits of Using TENS Machines for Labour

Using a TENS machine for labour can provide numerous benefits for expecting mothers. One of the main benefits is natural pain relief. TENS is a drug-free option that can provide immediate and long-lasting therapeutic effects. It also has no risk of dependence, making it a safer choice for the mother. This provides women with a holistic approach to pain management.

Another benefit is it provides controllable pain relief. TENS machines offer greater flexibility in managing labour pain, giving women a sense of control. This can contribute to a more positive and empowering birth experience for the mother. When women are more relaxed, they can focus on the progress of their delivery and connect with their birthing partners.

Furthermore, TENS machines can help stimulate the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles support the bladder, bowel, and the uterus. However, they can be weakened by pregnancy and childbirth. By stimulating them, the TENS machine helps to strengthen and tone these muscles, which can aid in better control during and after labour.

Advantages Over Other Pain Relief Methods

  • Non-invasive treatment: TENS machines are applied externally and do not involve intrusive procedures, which can be uncomfortable.
  • Fewer side effects: They do not carry the risk of adverse side effects, dependence, or potential overdose.
  • Lower cost: The cost of using a TENS device can be significantly lower than strong painkillers, anaesthesia, or epidurals.
  • Personalised pain relief: Women can control the frequency and intensity according to their comfort levels.
  • Convenience: TENS machines are portable and easy to use. They can be used at home during early labour.
  • Mobility: They enable women the freedom to move around and remain active during labour.

A pregnant woman lying down on a bed with her partner

How to Use a TENS Machine for Labour Safely – Preparation

Before using a TENS machine for labour, it is essential to know the preparatory steps to ensure a safe and effective experience. The first step is to familiarise oneself with the functions and features of the TENS device. Each model can have different features and controls. Read the user manual carefully or ask a healthcare provider how to operate the machine.

Additionally, when choosing a labour TENS machine, check the range of settings and adjustment options. Look for a device that has wide intensity levels that can help combat strong contractions. The second method is to clean the area of the skin. Ensure there are no oils, lotion, or dirt that can interfere with the conductivity of the electrode pads.

Equally important, discuss with a healthcare provider or midwife to ensure that TENS therapy is a safe and appropriate option. It may not be suitable for certain individuals with medical conditions like heart problems, epilepsy, or a history of miscarriage. By being prepared and informed, women can safely use a TENS machine to manage labour pain.


To maximise the efficiency of TENS machines, it is recommended to practice using the device. Try using the unit on other body parts (except the abdomen) to see how it works and ensure comfort with the electrical stimulation. Moreover, the device must always be ready and within reach.

In addition, make sure that the TENS machine has new batteries or is fully charged. Also, use new electrodes and have extra pads on hand, as they may need replacement during labour to ensure optimal relief. Lastly, large-sized pads can provide more coverage and target multiple areas at once.

A person removing the plastic film from an iTENS pad

How to Use a TENS Machine for Labour Safely – Electrode Placement

Proper electrode placement is vital when using a TENS machine for labour safely. Before applying the electrodes, make sure to thoroughly clean and dry the skin for proper adhesion. For labour pain, attach the electrodes to the lower back on either side of the spine. This helps to relieve lower back pain from the intensity of contractions.

When placing the electrodes on the lower back, position one set at the bra strap level and another above the buttocks. Keep the pads two to three inches apart to target the nerves effectively and avoid interruptions of the currents. It is important not to place the electrodes directly on the spinal cord, as it can cause discomfort or unwanted sensations.

Other placements that can provide additional pain relief are on the hips or buttocks. This can help alleviate hip pain or pressure in labour. Nevertheless, it is crucial not to put the TENS electrodes over the abdomen during pregnancy and throughout labour. Other areas to avoid are the chest, head, and front and sides of the neck. Likewise, avoid electrode contact with broken skin, open wounds, or irritated skin.

Different Electrode Pad Sizes

TENS machine pads come in various sizes to cater to different needs. Using the right size is vital as it can affect the coverage of the electrical stimulation. Most units have interchangeable options for small and large electrode pads. Large pads are beneficial for labour as they can cover a wider area.

On the other hand, smaller-sized pads can be useful for targeting compact pain areas like the knees and other joints. Additionally, they can provide targeted relief to specific areas of pain. Regardless of the pad size, proper application is essential to not only relieve pain but also avoid any discomfort or irritation.

A guide showing how to use the iTENS smartphone app

How to Use a TENS Machine for Labour Safely – Settings

Understanding the different settings of a TENS machine for labour pain is crucial for safe and effective use. The key aspects to remember are intensity, frequency, and pulse duration. Firstly, intensity is the strength of the electrical impulses. Increasing the levels provides stronger tingling sensations. Individuals can adjust the intensity as the uterine contractions escalate.

Secondly, frequency refers to the number of pulses delivered per second. High-frequency TENS (80-150 Hz) are suitable for acute pain like labour. This setting stimulates the pain gate mechanism in the spinal cord. In contrast, low-frequency TENS (2-10 Hz) is suitable during the early stages of labour to give the body enough time to produce endorphins.

Thirdly, the pulse duration is the length of time that each electrical pulse lasts. Short pulse durations (50-80 microseconds) are usually recommended for acute pain, such as during active labour. Some women find that a faster or slower pulse frequency and width are more effective in providing relief. Lastly, some labour TENS machines have an intuitive boost button to give extra power during peak contractions.

Adjustments During Pain Therapy

  • Start with a low-intensity setting and gradually increase the level as the contractions get stronger. It is important to find a comfortable level that provides pain relief without causing further discomfort.
  • Adjust the frequency and pulse duration settings. Try switching between high and low pulse rates if the other does not provide sufficient relief.
  • Experiment with different combinations to find the most effective settings.
  • If available, use the boost button to give an extra surge of power when the contractions intensify without manually adjusting the settings each time. This changes the intensity from low to high and the frequency from pulsating to continuous.

A person getting ready to apply new TENS pads

Additional Safety Guidelines When Using a TENS Machine for Labour

Aside from proper usage, there are certain safety measures to keep in mind when using a TENS machine for labour. One of the essential guidelines is to ensure the device is turned off before applying or removing the electrodes to prevent accidental shocks. As previously mentioned, it is best to start the therapy with the lowest intensity to prevent sudden discomfort.

Furthermore, monitor the skin condition under the pads for any signs of irritation. If redness, itching, or burning sensations occur, it is advisable to remove the pads and inform a doctor. Additionally, avoid pad placement with broken or damaged skin, as this can increase the risk of infection.

It is also important to keep the machine away from water or moisture to prevent electric shocks. Finally, if at any point the TENS machine does not seem to be providing adequate relief or if there are any concerns about its usage, do not hesitate to seek guidance and support from a healthcare provider.

Potential Risks and Side Effects

While TENS machines are generally safe, there are some potential risks and side effects to be aware of. Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to the adhesive or gel used with the pads. This can result in skin redness, itching, or irritation.

Muscle twitching is also common due to the intensity of the electrical pulses. However, it should not add to the contractions. Moreover, the device may cause skin burns if the electrical current is too high. It is important to balance the intensity to a substantial level that matches the contractions without causing further pain or discomfort.

A certificate of authenticity for an iTENS product

Should You Buy or Hire a TENS Machine for Labour?

There are various ways to access a TENS machine for labour, and some of them are whether to buy or hire a device. There are a few factors to consider when deciding what options to choose. It may be more cost-effective to buy a TENS machine if planning for multiple pregnancies. In addition, purchasing a device gives the convenience of using it readily for other pain conditions.

On the other hand, women who want to try if TENS therapy suits them may choose to hire a device first. Hiring a TENS unit is practical for one-time use. Also, it offers the flexibility to return it after labour without having to invest for long-term use. Women can rent a specialised TENS device for several weeks of use from various clinics or companies.

Ultimately, the decision to buy or hire a TENS machine comes down to personal preference and individual circumstances. It is vital to consider the cost, future uses, and convenience when making this decision. Consulting with a healthcare provider or midwife can also provide valuable insight and guidance.

Advantages of Buying One

Purchasing a TENS machine can provide several advantages. Firstly, owning a personal unit allows access to pain relief whenever needed. This can be beneficial for people who want to use it outside of labour, such as chronic pain. TENS can provide comprehensive pain management for other conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, and muscle pain.

Secondly, owning a TENS machine can help minimise the cost of going to regular treatments for chronic pain. It also reduces the cost of multiple rentals, making it more cost-efficient for long-term use. Finally, keeping a device on hand allows for better familiarisation of the settings.

A small and large wing iTENS electrode, refill gel pads, and information about iTENS

Can You Use the iTENS as a TENS Machine for Labour?

iTENS is a wireless TENS unit that offers convenience and efficiency when it comes to natural pain relief. It has wing-shaped pads that attach directly to the compact power unit instead of using cords. Additionally, this power unit has a Bluetooth receiver that can connect to an app on a smartphone or tablet.

Women looking for a more innovative way to manage pain may use iTENS as a TENS machine for labour. It works essentially the same as traditional units without the inconvenience of bulky or tangled wires. It also eliminates several steps, such as assembling the device before use.

To operate the iTENS, attach the electrodes to the power unit and place them on the pain area. Then, turn on the device and connect it to the smartphone via Bluetooth. From the app, adjust the settings or select the desired program from the menu. Many users find the wireless iTENS to be versatile. Overall, the iTENS can be a valuable addition to the birth plan, helping women to stay in control throughout the labour process.

Pros of the iTENS Wireless

  • Optional connectivity: Individuals may choose to use the device alone and operate it manually or through a smartphone app.
  • Easy pad placement: It enables direct electrode placement without having to use wires.
  • Enhanced mobility: The wireless electrodes provide a greater range of motion. Women can have more freedom of movement without the restrictions of wires.
  • Portable design: The wireless design of the iTENS makes it easy to use, allowing women to focus on their delivery.
  • Innovative app functions: The app allows for the customisation of the pain relief experience. It has an easy interface to operate the intensity, frequency, and duration of the currents.


A TENS machine for labour is a tool that uses electrical pulses to provide customisable pain relief during childbirth. It provides a non-invasive and drug-free form of pain relief, offering women safer childbirth. By stimulating sensory nerves and triggering the release of endorphins, it interrupts pain signals, reducing the perception of pain. Moreover, TENS machines include various features, such as adjustable settings, boost buttons, and timers. These functions help find a substantial amount of electrical stimulation for optimal results.

However, it is important to note that every experience with labour and pain relief may vary. Therefore, proper usage is essential to ensure the best results. Before using a TENS unit for labour, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional for guidance. Furthermore, following the safety guidelines is crucial to prevent harm or potential adverse effects. Finally, individuals have options between hiring or buying a device. Ultimately, the choice will depend on personal preferences and specific needs.

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