Natural Pain Relief: Should I Use a TENS Machine For Labor?

Geoffrey Lions
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What is TENS?

TENS is short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Basically, it's a small device that straps to your body, and it sends small electrical signals to relieve pain. The electrical impulses do not cause any pain to the person using them, and it has been proven to be very beneficial in pain relief.

Another acronym for TENS is TLC, which stands for tender loving care. When it comes to childbirth TLC is something that's greatly needed, so I think it's fitting.

TENS works by mimicking the body's natural response to pain. The electrical impulses travel through the nerves to the spinal cord, altering the way it feels pain and helping you to cope more effectively. TENS is most commonly used to relieve back pain or labor pain.

If your partner is pregnant, a great thing you can learn from this guide is how to best support the mother-to-be. In that spirit, here is an article on TENS machines and natural childbirth to share with your wife.

There are many different testimonial stories about how this machine has helped them. One woman who was 8-1/2 months pregnant, wanted to keep walking with her husband but wasn’t sure how she was going to manage it due to the pain. She discovered a TENS machine and found that it was very helpful to her pains.

When should I use a TENS machine during pregnancy and labor?

A TENs device is an electrical stimulation unit that helps relieve back and knee pain, along with other types of pain in the body.

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Many women use a TENS machine during labor or to treat labor pain.

In fact, in some hospitals, TENs is given out to women who are having a difficult time coping with the pain of labor. Studies show that more than 90 percent of women who use a TENS machine during labor report a reduction in pain.

The process of using a TENS is simple.First, you will place small pads, saturated in non-conducting gel, on your back. There is a controller with a dial and buttons, which you will hold in your hand. You will then set the amount of electrical impulses that you desire.

If you are not comfortable with the sensation, you can adjust it or raise the intensity setting to make it stronger. For many women, the sensation is a tingling.

If you want, you can then activate the TENS unit and allow it to do its work by providing natural pain relief and a reduction in the amount of pain you are dealing with.

If you choose not to use a TENS machine during labor, you can always wait until post-pregnancy, when the aches and pains of motherhood will soon be in full force.

Is it effective?

Yes, It Is! When used correctly during pregnancy, they are equally as effective as midwife-administered Tylenol (very mild pain relief) and relief was more effective than just having supportive conversation.

A 2002 review of pain-management education for pregnant women suggests that TENS machines might improve pain relief and reduce anxiety in birth.

The method is used in almost every hospital around the world as a safe way for women to get pain relief without the risks of general anesthesia and powerful drug side effects.

While TENS or TENS machine use is an excellent way to manage your pain during labor and birth, it’s not the first place to start with your pain management. Acupuncture and massage therapy (along with labor positions) may be better than TENS to help you get started with pain management during labor.

Why? Because if you’re anxious during labor, your pain may worsen. It may be just enough for you to really get in your head and you might start worrying about it. TENS before labor starts is highly advised because you’ll start to associate a machine with your needs during labor.

Benefits of TENS during labor

Studies using TENS machines during labor have found them to be helpful for the following:

  • Reduction in verbal descriptor scores of pain
  • Improvement in relaxation techniques
  • Improved attendance, participation, and satisfaction at antenatal education classes
  • A significant reduction in epidural use
  • An increase in the time the baby is in an optimal range of motion
  • A reduction in the baby’s stress response
  • A reduction in the amount of psychotropic medication used
  • An increase in oxytocin levels
  • Reduced need for epidural analgesia
  • An increase in length of the second stage of labor
  • Improvement in the relationship between partners

Disadvantages of TENS during labor

There are some disadvantages of using a TENS machine during labor. Some disadvantages include the following: · It does not block the pain stimulus · It does not decrease the perception of pain · It does not relax the muscles · It does not lower the heart rate · It does not help with longer labor · It does not help with premature labor · It does not ease pelvic pain · It does not ease back pain · It does not ease vaginal pressure · It does not diminish contractions · It does not reduce anxiety · It may not be safe for use with IVs and other medical equipment AND there is no data that shows TENS is more effective than sham (fake) TENS.

Should you buy or rent?

If you are planning on using a TENS machine for your delivery, then you’ll want to buy one to use for future pregnancies. A TENS machine is a great way to help treat back pain and other types of pain. A few studies have revealed that pregnant women who use contraction aids like a TENS machine have less cesareans during labor, less use of labor epidurals (which can increase pain during pushing), and quicker labors.

A TENS machine lets a woman control the amount of stimulation she feels. It comes in handy when dealing with labor pains. She can control how much she feels the contraction, and when she feels it.

If you have a cheap machine that you are not sure is going to make it through your whole labor, you’ll want to rent one instead of buying it. You can rent them from clinics or some pharmacies. The rental rate is about the same as the price of a machine that you would buy.

Be sure to start using the machine a few weeks before your due date. Start out with about ten minutes of use and build that up to twenty or thirty minutes a day as you get closer to your due date. This helps you get used to the feeling of the TENS machine and getting your body to relax.

Further recommendations from experts

There are some other tips you can follow to prepare for your labor. It seems that this is the case when the delivery of a child is on the horizon. Considering experts advice, you can relax more and be sure that the delivery will be of lesser pain. You can read the tips below:

· There are some tips you can follow for you to prepare yourself for labor. Experts recommend women to practice pre-natal yoga and meditation as both are proven effective in getting the baby into the right position. Basically, when the baby's head is facing down, the delivery of the baby would be more comfortable and of less pain.

· If you want to lessen the pain a woman should also engage herself in regular exercises. Experts recommend swimming and biking for the mother to enjoy and be fit. Women should also avoid smoking and drinking in excess, as these can cause pre-term labor and even increase the pain in delivery.

· Experts also recommend women to join some kind of support group for women in their last trimester. The best thing about such groups is that there would be people you can talk to who are also in your level of pregnancy. Essentially, the group would become like a new family for you where you can share your experiences with other mothers.


Wear clean cotton underwear that you don’t mind getting stained with water to avoid an “accident.”

Avoid rubber-soled shoes because they may cause electric shocks if they get wet.

If water gets in the mask, throw it away because it’s no longer sterile.

Do not wear jewelry or metal hair clips where they may come in contact with the electrodes.

Cover the electrodes with waterproof pads when they are not in use.

Use alcohol to clean the skin between electrode placement.

Ensure the bottle of Gatorade is unopened before putting it back in the refrigerator after adding the citric acid.

Only use your electrodes once, and then throw them away in the disposal kit.


With all the choices for natural pain relief that are available these days, you're likely to hear many opinions on the subject. Whether you choose to use a TENS machine for labor or not, always remember to breathe and stay in charge of your pain.

While you will need to experience labor for yourself to understand pain, experience with a TENS machine is just around the corner. Let’s look at both a pros and cons list to help you make a more informed decision.