TENS Use During Labor
Pregnant ladies, meet your new best friend.
What is a TENS unit?
First off, TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS unit is a small, portable device that can be utilized during labor to provide pain relief. It provides impulses via lead wires and electrodes that are applied to the skin. These impulses stimulate nerve fibers.
How does a TENS unit work?
There are two theories on how it works. The first is the Gate Control Theory. According to Wikipedia, "The gate control theory of pain asserts that non-painful input closes the 'gates' to painful input, which prevents pain sensation from traveling to the central nervous system. Therefore, stimulation by non-noxious input is able to suppress pain."
Basically, our nerves are highways for sensation and the faster-moving sensory input, like that provided by a TENS unit, reaches our brain first and thereby closes the gate to the pain sensations we feel during labor. Of course, we cannot completely eliminate pain in labor. Instead, think of it as dialing down the intensity of the pain.
The other theory regarding how a TENS unit works is Endorphin Release. The human body has its own naturally occurring pain control hormones called beta-endorphins, which are released in response to pain or stress. They help us to cope; to endure the pain of labor. They are also responsible for the "birth high" many women experience after achieving an un-medicated labor. It is believed that the stimulation provided by a TENS unit causes the brain to produce more of our body's own natural pain killers (endorphins), which helps us to feel less pain.
Are there other benefits to using a TENS unit?
You bet! In addition to its pain relieving effect, a TENS unit can:
- 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)
- Does not decrease the mental function or clarity of the laboring woman
- Allows for freedom of movement
- Can help to postpone or eliminate request for additional pain relief options
- May be particularly helpful for women experiencing back labor
So, who can use a TENS unit?
Almost anyone! A good candidate for TENS use would be a woman who has passed her 37th week of pregnancy, has no history of Epilepsy or seizures, no pre-eclampsia, and is free of "demand-type" cardiac pacemakers. You would also need to take precaution not to use on broken skin. Finally, it cannot be used with internal fetal monitoring or with an epidural.
Ok, how do I get my hands on one??
Luckily for you, we include a complimentary TENS unit rental in our Full Service Birth Doula Package! If you would like to utilize a TENS unit during your labor, we will leave the unit with you during our home visit. We will discuss all of the pertinent information then: the when, hows, etc. and we'll answer any questions you may have. Then, we will pick up the unit at our postpartum visit. Easy peasy! You don't have to do anything but enjoy the benefits!