Many pregnant women choose to use Tens as a way of controlling their contractions, as it able to effectively distract from the pain. Tens stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve stimulation. It is a machine which is attached to your clothing during pregnancy, and gives out safe electric pulses of energy which can be used in conjunction with four pads that you can put on your back.

Each tens machine is different and it is best to read the instructions carefully and get help if need be. Your birth partner will be able to assist you with the use of the Tens machine during labour. The pads which come with the Tens machine are usually placed on your back, though you may only need to attach two pads at about bra level. The other two pads should be placed on your lower back or your bottom. The pads are coated in a gel to make it more comfortable, but this is also a means to ensure pulses reach the body effectively. The Tens machine typically contains dials which are used to adjust pulse output according to your individual needs.

Tens machines are available to buy in pharmacies and mother and baby shopping outlets, or as an alternative you could look on the internet.

How should a Tens machine be used?

A Tens machine should be used at the first stage of your labour when you start to feel contractions.  Tens machines are believed to send out electrical pulses to the brain which helps to relieve the pain of contractions.  Once you have set up the Tens machine it might take around an hour to start feeling the effects of released endorphins. You can start using the Tens machine when you feel symptoms like backache and contractions to provide a pain relief distraction.

Many women find it beneficial to start with the lower setting and then gradually increase it as the contractions build up in intensity. If you are having intense, sharp contractions then, dependent on the particular machine being used, there may be a button to heighten pulse intensity to distract from the pain.

Hospitals do not normally stock Tens machines. It is expected that you bring one yourself if you wish to use it during labour. Many women find that Tens is only useful during the first part of the contractions and that when in established labour it is insufficient for pain.

What are the advantages of Tens?

There are numerous advantages to using Tens, as outlined below:

  • It is effective in providing a distraction from the pain of contractions.
  • It can help you to feel more in control of contractions.
  • It can be used for a home birth.
  • It is easily portable.
  • Tens machines are safe and will not harm the baby.
  • It has no long lasting side effects.
  • It is easy to use and can be done without the need for any medical specialist.

What are the disadvantages of Tens?

As with any form of pain relief, there are some disadvantages:

  • You may require assistance to help you put the pads on.
  • You have to buy your own Tens machine.
  • It is not all that effective in the later stages of labour.
  • You cannot use a Tens machine in a birthing pool.
  • You may not be able to use any massage labour techniques.
  • You may feel uncomfortable with the pads on.

Where can I acquire a Tens machine?

You can buy a Tens machine from various retail outlets, especially those that focus on mother and baby. Alternatively, you could try purchasing a Tens machine online or hiring one during the last trimester ready for the labour. Many women prefer hiring out a Tens machine as it is only really needed for the labour.

How long should I use Tens machine for?

Ideally you would need to wait about an hour for the Tens machine to have an impact; however, it can be used during the later stages of labour if you feel it is of assistance. The amount of time spent using the Tens machine is dependent on your individual labour and what you find works best for you.

Where can I get more advice about Tens machines?

You can ask your midwife, doctor or friends as they may be able to give you further advice on its effectiveness and their experiences. It is important to try to keep mobile during labour as this helps to push the baby out more easily. Keeping mobile can also help with feeling the full effects of the Tens machine and making you feel more in control of the contractions. You should try to take the pads of every three hours to reapply gel to effectively enhance performance, but also to give your back a break.

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