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Labour TENS: Drug Free Pain Relief

By Valerie Lorenz

What is TENS?
Labour TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a safe and easy method of natural pain relief for labour. It has been professionally researched and is endorsed by Australian obstetricians, physiotherapists and midwives. Labour TENS has been used in hospitals worldwide since the 1960’s with no adverse side effects.

Labour TENS works in harmony with the natural birth process and may reduce medical interventions. It can be used alone for a drug free birth or alongside other forms of pain relief to reduce drug dosage and side effects.

The TENS unit consists of a nine volt battery powered stimulator and two pairs of self adhesive electrodes with connecting leads. It produces a mild electrical current, which you will feel as a tingling sensation on your skin. You can adjust the rate, intensity and duration of the electrical impulses produced by the TENS unit.

How does TENS work?
When you experience pain, messages are sent along the nerves to your brain and you then feel pain. The TENS unit produces tiny electrical impulses which are sent through the skin to the nerves. This electrical stimulation of the nerves blocks those pain messages from reaching the brain. The brain then registers the tingling sensation produced by the TENS unit rather than the pain. You perceive the pain as less intense.

TENS also increases your body’s production of endorphins – your body’s natural painkillers, which help to reduce pain.

Advantages of using TENS in labour

  • Portable and non-invasive
  • Easy to use
  • No harmful effects on either the mother or baby
  • Does not restrict your ability to move about in labour
  • You are in control
  • Can be applied at home during early labour
  • Other pain relief options can still be used if TENS does not provide you with adequate pain relief


Disadvantages of using TENS in labour

  • Must be removed for showering or bath and massage
  • May have to be removed if your baby’s heart rate has to be monitored electronically

TENS works best, providing pain relief if you start using it at the very beginning of your labour. It takes your body about an hour to build up endorphins in response to the stimulation. Also, it is important to keep mobile during labour as it will help you feel more in control and enhance the effects of TENS.

How to involve TENS in your labour
For further information on using TENS in labour or hiring a TENS unit, contact Life Ready Midland on 9250 7772. Early bookings are essential.

Blincoe AJ 2007. TENS machines and their use in managing labour pain. British Journal of Midwifery 15(8): 516-519.

Dowswell T, Neilson JP, Lavender T 2008. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for pain relief in labour (Protocol). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007214.

Simkin P, Bolding A 2004. Update on nonpharmacologic approaches to relieve labor pain and prevent suffering. Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 49(6): 489-504.

Contributed by Valerie Lorenz – Continence & Women’s Health Physiotherapist at Life Ready Midland. For more information on Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapy, click here. 


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