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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Maternity Unit: Pad Placement Guide for Safe Therapy

A pregnant woman holding her abdomen

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy is a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. Proper pad placement is crucial for ensuring safe therapy when using a TENS maternity unit. The birth partner should position one set of electrodes below the ribcage and another set just above the buttocks. It is essential to place the pads on both sides of the spine, ensuring a two to three-inch distance between them.

The pain of labour can differ among women. In most cases, contractions can range from mild to severe. Using a TENS machine can help reduce pain for women who struggle to cope with it. This method is effective in diverting the focus of the brain from the sensation of pain. It also helps minimise the need for oral painkillers. This article will present how a TENS maternity device works, including its proper pad placement and safety precautions.

How a TENS Maternity Unit Works?

A TENS maternity unit is a device that utilises electrical stimulation to relieve pain. It consists of a handheld remote control and a set of electrode pads. The electrodes adhere to the skin to deliver the electrical pulses. In addition, traditional units use wires to connect the pads. However, several modern devices have wireless electrodes. Instead of lead cables, they integrate Bluetooth technology to connect to a smartphone or tablet.

The unit works on the principles of electrotherapy. It generates small electrical currents through electrodes placed on the skin. These currents can stimulate sensory nerves and interrupt the transmission of pain signals. This process is known as pain gating. During the therapy session, the “neural gates” close in the spinal cord, preventing pain signals from reaching the brain.

Another mechanism of TENS involves using low frequencies to stimulate the release of endorphins. These hormones bind to nerve cells, preventing the transmission of pain signals to the brain. As a result, increased levels of endorphins produce a pain-relieving effect. This method requires a certain amount of time before the individual can experience the results. However, the therapeutic effects last longer.

Benefits of TENS Therapy

  • TENS therapy helps reduce labour pain by sending gentle electrical pulses that block pain signals.
  • It is a non-invasive and drug-free pain relief method involving electrode placement on the skin.
  • Birth partners can control the TENS device, adjusting the frequency and intensity to suit their comfort levels during different stages of labour.
  • TENS medical devices encourage relaxation by stimulating the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body, helping moms manage stress.
  • TENS devices are portable, allowing mothers to maintain their preferred birthing positions.
  • It provides almost instant relief during labour, making it a quick and effective option for managing discomfort during contractions.

A hand peeling off the plastic from the iTENS gel pad

Proper Pad Placement When Using a TENS Maternity Unit

Correct pad placement is important when using a TENS maternity unit. The recommended placement of TENS electrodes is at the lower back. Place one set of electrodes below the ribcage and another set just above the buttocks. Position the pads on both sides of the spine, with a distance of two to three inches between them.

The electrical currents can target the nerves responsible for transmitting pain signals from the uterus and lower abdomen by positioning the pads at the sacral region. In addition, it helps to alleviate contractions or cramping that extend to the lower back. In some cases, women may put extra electrodes on the legs for enhanced pain relief.

It is important to avoid placing the electrodes directly over the abdomen as it may lead to increased uterine contractions. Additionally, it is important to refrain from putting the pads near the head, neck, heart, and directly over the spine. Moreover, avoid areas with open wounds, infected skin, or decreased sensations. The placement should be comfortable for the woman and should not cause any discomfort or irritation.

How to Use the Device

To use the maternity TENS device, begin by placing the electrodes on the designated area. Activate the unit and adjust the settings. It is best to start with lower levels of stimulation and gradually increase as contractions become more intense. Most devices come with a power button and control knobs for amplitude, pulse frequency, and pulse width.

During an intense wave of contractions, the birth partner has the option to press the boost button on a TENS device to deliver a surge of power. This helps combat the pain and allows the mother to stay in control of her labour.

A pregnant woman holding her stomach and lower back

Safety Precautions When Using a TENS Maternity Unit

There are specific safety measures that should be followed when using a TENS maternity unit. This method contributes to delivering the most efficient pain relief and minimising potential risks. Firstly, it is essential to consult an obstetrician or health professional regarding the use of a TENS machine. It may not be suitable for people with certain medical conditions.

Secondly, follow the appropriate settings and usage guidelines of the device. Each individual may receive specific instructions based on their particular situation or medical history. It is crucial not to stay within the limits to avoid discomfort, such as redness or irritation on the skin. Thirdly, do not use the device if the electrodes do not stick properly to the skin.

Furthermore, since TENS utilises electricity, do not use or submerge the device in water. This can cause electrical shocks and other safety risks. Individuals who are considering a water birth may utilise the device before entering the birth pool. However, it has to be promptly removed. Lastly, communicate any concerns to a professional while using the TENS machine.

When Not to Use the Device?

Women should not use TENS devices during the early stages of pregnancy. The effects of TENS on fetal development, particularly in the first trimester, are not well documented. Therefore, it is better to avoid using TENS during early pregnancy to prevent any potential risks to the developing fetus.

Additionally, women with preexisting neurological and heart conditions should not use TENS devices. The electrical stimulation may interfere with the functioning of the nervous system and heart. Women with such conditions need to consult with their healthcare provider before considering the use of a TENS device for labour.


A TENS maternity unit works by applying electrical stimulation through electrode pads, leveraging electrotherapy principles to alleviate pain during childbirth. Proper pad placement is crucial, focusing on the lower back to target nerves transmitting pain signals. Avoiding abdominal placement and ensuring comfort are key considerations. With advancements like wireless connectivity and dual mechanisms targeting pain signals, a TENS maternity device offers a modern and efficient approach to pain relief during labour.

Individuals must prioritise safety precautions when using a TENS maternity machine. Consulting a healthcare professional, adhering to device guidelines, ensuring proper electrode adhesion, and avoiding water exposure are key steps. It is crucial to refrain from using TENS during early pregnancy and for those with preexisting neurological or heart conditions. By following these precautions, individuals can enhance the effectiveness of pain relief while minimising potential risks during the childbirth process.

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