Many mum-to-be's understandably opt for a natural, drug-free form of pain relief during labour, as the thought of being injected with a series of drugs can be quite off-putting. Drugs, especially epidurals, can sometimes result in a prolonged second stage of labour, and increase the risk of having an instrumental delivery (with forceps or ventouse). Other drugs can also make it difficult to push, and if they are administered too close to birth, they can affect the baby's breathing.
Even if you choose to use medical pain relief, unforeseen circumstances may make it not possible, so it's best to have an alternative and know what other options are available, such as a labour TENS machine.
What Is a Labour TENS Machine?
A TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine is a drug-free method of pain relief often used by women during labour. In fact, 1 in 5 women use TENS to help them through the early stages of childbirth.
A TENS machine can also be used in conjunction with other methods of pain control, e.g. entonox, if needed. It can also be used if you have a cesarean birth, to reduce pain both during and after the birth.
Available to buy or hire, we are here to help you decide whether you want to include one in your birthing plan.
How Does a Labour TENS Machine Work?
TENS machines work by passing a small electrical current through the body between electrode pads. This is designed to block the pain signals that are sent to your brain, whilst simultaneously stimulating the release of endorphins (your body's own natural painkiller).
When Should You Use a Labour TENS Machine?
Using a TENS machine as a method of pain relief is most effective during the very beginning stages of childbirth - when your contractions become regular or backache grows painful. The placement of the pads on the lower back will significantly relieve backache.
As your labour grows stronger you are able to continue to use TENS for as long as practical, reducing the risk of a drug assisted birth. If needed, TENS can safely be combined with other forms of pain relief, including entonox (gas and air), to create a dual barrier against labour pain.
What are the Advantages of Using a Labour TENS Machine?
- It won't directly interfere with your labour.
- It's safe to use for both you, and your baby in early labour. Using a TENS machine in labour does not have any impact for mothers or babies.
- You are able to use it for as long as you want.
- The device is portable, allowing mobility.
- There are no lasting side-effects for you or your baby.
- It does not require the assistance of an anaesthetist, doctor, or midwife.
- It can be used in the hospital, or at a home birth.
- The machine is easy to use, allowing you to have full control.
- It can help with all stages of labour - going through the early stages of labour without any form of pain relief can be tiring, and diminish your ability to cope with labour pains during the latter stages.
What are the Disadvantages of Using a Labour TENS Machine?
- You may need help with positioning the pads on your back.
- A labour TENS machine may only be effective in relieving pain during the early stages of labour.
- Due to the placement of the pads, it may be difficult for your birthing partner to massage your back.
- The device may have to be removed if your baby's heart needs to be monitored electronically.
- If you choose to have a water birth, a labour TENS machine must only be used before you enter the water, it cannot be used once you're in the water.
although Labour TENS machines prove a popular method of pain relief during childbirth, few maternity units provide them. Most expectant mothers are not admitted into hospital until they're in active labour, whereby other methods of pain relief are recommended. However, it has become increasingly common for women to purchase or hire their own TENS machine prior to entering hospital, meaning pain and discomfort can be eased from the first contraction.
Labour TENS machines are readily available to purchase online. To learn more about the importance of your pelvic floor during pregnancy, visit Pregnancy and The Pelvic Floor.
Crothers, E., Coldron, Y., Cook, T., Watson, T., Notcutt, W. (2012) Safe Use of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Musculoskeletal Pain During Pregnancy. Journal of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Women's Health. 111, pp. 22-26.
Dowswell, T., Bedwell, C., Lavender, T., Neilson, J.P. (2009) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for Pain Relief in Labour. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (2).
Lantsev, E.A., Smirnov, A.A. (1990) The Use of Transcutaneous Electric Neurostimulation for Postoperative Analgesia in Parturients Undergoing Caesarean section. Anesteziol Reanimatol. Nov-Dec (6), pp. 66-69.
National Childbirth Trust (2018) Pain Relief in Labour [online] NCT [viewed 07/08/2018]. Available from https://www.nct.org.uk/birth/pain-relief-during-labour.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2014) Intrapartum Care for Healthy Women and Babies [online]. NICE [viewed 07/08/2018]. Available from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/Recommendations#first-stage-of-labour.
Navarro Nunez, C., Pacheco Carrasco, M. (2000) Transcutaneous Electric Stimulation (TENS) to Reduce Pain after Cesarean Section. Ginecol Obstet Mex. 68, pp. 60-63.
NHS (2015) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS [online] NHS [viewed 31/07/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation-tens/.
NHS (2017) Pain Relief in Labour [online] NHS [viewed 31/07/2018]. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pain-relief-labour/.