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What is a TENS unit?
TENS stands for, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. TENS is a safe, non-pharmacological method of pain management with many benefits and no harm to mother or baby.
A TENS unit is a hand-held, battery operated device that connects lead wires to four stimulating pads that are placed on the laboring person’s back. Electrical impulses controlled by the birthing person stimulate nerve fibers just under the skin creating a prickly, or tingling type of sensation.
Studies have shown that women were less likely to use an epidural with the TENS unit, and were more likely to use one again in the future.
Like laboring in a tub, TENS is not going to work for everyone, but it’s nice to be able to offer it as an additional coping tool for those looking to minimize other interventions.
How does a TENS unit work?
A TENS unit works in two ways. By creating gate control, the stimulation provided by the TENS travels faster to the brain than the discomfort of the contractions. It acts almost as an interrupter to the pain. The sensations created by the TENS travel on faster nerve fibers than those contractions use, so the brain sort of has a choice of which to pay more attention to. More often than not, your body will choose the thing that feels best, and the less desirable feeling will be dulled. A TENS unit can also increase natural endorphins, which are known as nature’s painkillers. Utilizing the TENS in early labor can help increase the likelihood that it will be an effective means of coping with pain. Think of it as making small deposits in the bank to be able to draw from later when you REALLY need some assistance.
What are some of the benefits of using a TENS unit in labor?
- No harm to birther or baby
- Give a sense of control to the laboring woman (SHE makes decisions regarding its use)
- Provides instant results (you feel the sensations as soon as you turn on the unit)
- Can be used for long periods of time
- Allows freedom of movement & continued active participation of labor
- Reduction of labor discomforts, particularly back labor
- No loss of other sensations or mental function
- Can help to postpone or eliminate request for additional pain relief options
- However, can be used in conjunction with narcotics and nitrous oxide
Can everyone use a TENS unit for labor?
Most birthing people can use a TENS safely. However, there are a few instances in which the TENS cannot be used. Those include:
- If the birther has a pacemaker
- Those with a history of epilepsy or seizures
- If there are open wounds that would interfere with the placement of pads
- Those utilizing an epidural and/or internal fetal monitor
- Those laboring in water (but these are easily taken on and off before and after water use)
- Birthers who have not yet reached the 37th week of pregnancy (unless labor has begun)
What do I need to do to use your TENS unit?
For my birth clients, the use of this tool is complementary during birth. However, if you wish to rent the unit prior to us meeting for labor, you may rent the unit (if available) 3 weeks prior to your EDD. An agreement form must be signed and returned prior to the doula releasing the TENS unit to client.