Using TENS in Labor -Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know!


First off, some of you may be wondering -"what exactly IS a TENS unit??" We're so happy you asked! TENS – or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation – is commonly and successfully used as a drug-free, natural method for

pain relief during labor. Whether you are planning a medicated or un-medicated birth, the #TENSunit can be used from the start of labor to provide comfort and reduce stress. It's been shown in studies to have no negative side effects for mom or baby, and it's completely controlled by YOU - a fact many of our clients love. When started early in labor, this method of pain relief can build with the intensity of contractions, and it allows the user to remain as mobile as desired. Many hospitals around the world are now offering TENS as an option, and we're excited to see that their use is slowly becoming more commonplace! How does it work? At its root, the TENS unit relies primarily on the "Gate Control Theory" for reduction of pain. The Gate Control Theory says that there’s only a certain amount of stimuli that can get through to the brain. In other words, there is a “gate” that only lets so much sensory information through. We also know that pain signals travel more slowly along the nerve pathways than pleasure or other 'interesting' sensations. With the TENS, small electric pulses are sent through the electrodes (pads) where they disrupt the pain signals from reaching your brain. It's also believed that the use of TENS will promote your body to release more endorphins, which interact with the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain. All of this makes for an effective tool in your comfort measures "toolbox!" Researchers also think that TENS during labor might work by decreasing anxiety, making you feel like you have more control over your labor, and by providing a welcome distraction from labor contractions.


How is it used?

There are lots of different options when it comes to using a TENS unit, and no special training is needed. At Natural State Doulas we did feel it was beneficial to receive TENS training certification, so that we can ensure we're offering our clients the best information and care. We personally utilize the Elle TENS - units that are specifically designed for labor and birth, and offer Optimax. This "burst" function provides an extra pulse of pain combating power, often used in the active stages of labor – right when you need it most. We find the highest satisfaction rates when use is started very early in labor, particularly if #backlabor or #prodromal labor are involved. So, with this in mind, we teach all of our clients how to use a unit at 36 weeks, and ensure they have one on hand when it's "go time." What real people had to say: We don't want you to just take our word for it that TENS is a wonderful option when considering comfort measures for labor and birth! Here are the thoughts of clients who used our units throughout their birth experiences. "When thinking and creating my birth plan, the TENS unit was something unexpected that I utilized during my labor. I’m so thankful my doula educated me on the use of it and provided it for me during my long labor. For me, it allowed me to have a sense of control during my labor, because I was the one managing the intensity of TENS. It provided me with a form of pain relief and distraction. Honestly, I think the TENS unit felt good! Especially the boost button during a strong contraction!" - Tresia

"For me, the TENS essentially redirected the pain from the contractions to the oddly satisfying tingling sensation from the TENS unit. When contractions became more intense, I increased the TENS unit to match. Utilizing the TENS unit and a candle lit bubble bath were the two best things for helping me manage my pain."

- Lauren

Interested in using a TENS unit for your birth?

Contact us for a free handout on TENS use in labor or to learn more about how you can rent your own Elle TENS through Natural State Doulas!

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