TENS for labor

Medical News Today recently published a press release citing a 2009 review by the Cochrane Collaboration that concluded that women should have the option of using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) as a non-pharmacological method of pain management in labor.

The full report can be found on the Cochrane Collaboration’s website. The summary reads:

“TENS is a device which emits low voltage currents which has been used for pain relief in labour. The way that TENS acts to relieve pain is not well understood. The electrical pulses are thought to stimulate nerve pathways in the spinal cord which block the transmission of pain. In labour, the electrodes from the TENS machine are usually attached to the lower back (and women themselves control the electrical currents using a hand-held device) but TENS can also be applied to acupuncture points or directly to the head. The purpose of the review was to see whether TENS is effective in relieving pain in labour. The review includes 19 studies with a total of 1671 women. Fifteen studies examined TENS applied to the back, two to acupuncture points and two to the cranium (head). Results show that pain scores were similar in women using TENS and in control groups. There was some evidence that women using TENS were less likely to rate their pain as severe but results were not consistent. Many women said they would be willing to use TENS again in a future labour. TENS did not seem have an effect on the length of labour, interventions in labour, or the wellbeing of mothers and babies. It is not known whether TENS would help women to manage pain at home in early labour. Although it is not clear that it reduces pain, women should have the choice of using TENS in labour if they think it will be helpful.”

I like that the TENS unit can increase a mother’s feeling of control during her labor, it doesn't have any risks of harming mom and baby, and its non-pharmacological! It's win win!

How it works:

  • TENS is a small battery-operated electrical current generator that provides input to your central nervous system. The TENS unit is small and portable-the size of a pager-so you can walk around or be up with it while using it in labor. TENS is a safe method of pain control. It has no side effects and is controlled by you. And, while TENS does not eliminate pain, many women have found it to be extremely effective in helping them work with their contractions and feel more in control.
  • The TENS unit sends an electrical "signal" through your skin to the nerves. This signal feels like a warm, comfortable tingling sensation which helps block out some of the other pain stimuli that is also reaching your central nervous system.
  • Four electrode pads are placed along your spine.
  • Electrode wires are inserted into the pads and plugged into the TENS unit. The unit is turned on to the level of feeling a mild sensation.
  • With each contraction you dial up the intensity of the current with the contraction and turn it down to a mild sensation in between.
I am trained on using the TENS in labor and I am offering my unit to doula clients as requested. If you are interested in using a TENS unit for pain management in labor please contact me.

1 comment:

  1. WOW!! The very FIRST birth I attended as a nursing student in 1992... the woman used a TENS unit. She had back problems and had done some pre-labor consultation and found that an epidural was not an option for her. She had a family member who had a TENS unit from a previous injury. She learned how to use it during her pregnancy and was totally satisfied with how it helped her in labor. I had not seen TENS before that and quite frankly have not seen it since. Thanks for shairng this information.



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