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What is TENS?

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

A TENS unit is a small battery operated machine that works by delivering small electrical impulses to your body through four sticky electrode pads. The electrode pads are attached to your lower back during labour.

These electrical impulses flood the nervous system, reducing its ability to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.

A specifically designed 'labour or obstetric' TENS unit allows you to increase and decrease the pulse rate of the TENS and operate on two settings: one for rest (between contractions) and one for during a contraction. 

TENS has a rapidly growing reputation as one of the safest, most effective forms of modern pain control available to women during childbirth. The treatment is widely approved and recommended by medical professionals and it allows you to experience a mobile, drug-free labour, with personal control over your pain relief.

How does TENS work?

TENS works by changing how you perceive pain. Essentially it's playing a 'trick' on your brain.

When you use TENS at a low-intensity level, it is working through the Gate Control Theory, which suggests there’s only a certain amount of stimuli that can get through to your brain. In other words, there is a “gate” that only lets so much sensory information through. So, with TENS, you’re flooding your brain with the sensory buzzing feeling so that the brain can’t perceive the sensation from contractions as much.

When you 'crank' up the TENS (with the intensity turned way up), you are stimulating the body with another source of pain and you trigger the body to release its own natural pain relieving hormones called endorphins. In other words, you’re creating a painful sensation to encourage your body to release those endorphins, which act like your own natural morphine supply.

Benefits of Labour TENS

  • No harm to baby
  • Drug free pain control
  • No side effects or drowsiness
  • Used at home when contractions start
  • Can be used with other methods /drugs
  • Proven up to 80% effective for reducing labour pain
  • Non invasive giving freedom to move and walk about

The Pain Gate Theory - and why TENS works

Melzak and Wall proposed the ‘Gate Theory’ in 1965, and it remains the most respected theory of pain perception. They showed that pain impulses could be overridden and the perception of pain could be altered. Basically the brain can only cope with a certain amount of information at once. For unknown reasons, probably linked to survival, sensation impulses from the nerves have priority over pain signals.

When TENS is used you feel this stimulation strongly and the sense of pain gets put to the ‘back of your mind’. You perceive the pain as less intense.

Also endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers – TENS stimulates endorphin release helping reduce pain.

What does TENS feel like?

TENS feels like a pleasant tingling sensation on the skin where the electrode pads are placed.

How is labour TENS used?

Self adhesive electrodes are placed on the lower and mid back. You switch on the TENS and turn it up until you feel the tingling. The user can increase the intensity to ride out each contraction. The unit can be worn as needed for as long as desired but a minimum of 30minutes is recommended for labour pains. Labour TENS is best used at home when the contractions begin and continued for up to several hours after birth. Labour TENS will help with uterine contractions after birth and whilst breast feeding.

How long should Labour TENS be used for? When do I start using the Labour TENS?

Labour TENS is used in the first stage of labour when the contractions begin and start to become painful. The earlier the TENS is used, the better. This gives your body time to build up natural endorphins.

The unit can be worn as needed for as long as desired.

Is TENS safe?

Yes, very safe. Labour TENS units are specifically designed for labour. However there are a few precautions.
Do not use over broken or desensitised skin. Do not use before 36 weeks unless approved by your doctor. Seek advice from doctor if you have unstable epilepsy or a pacemaker.

I would like a water birth – can I use a Labour TENS?

Yes, although NOT whilst in the water. You need to REMOVE the TENS BEFORE you enter the water. While you are in the water your Birthing Partner can be responsible for preparing the TENS unit so it can go straight back on when you come out of the water.

Can I take the TENS into hospital with me?

Yes. The midwives and doctors are usually very happy for women to use TENS. You may need to turn the TENS off temporarily if using electronic monitoring equipment.

What type of TENS unit should I use?

Make sure you use a TENS unit specifically designed for labour. Also make sure the unit is modern and comes with brand new electrodes which you can put on and take off again. The unit should also come with batteries and instructions.  BabyCare Elle Labour TENS units hired from NatalCare Naturally offer modern, reliable TENS units with all these important features.

Features and benefits include:

  • Easy to use push button control

Our units have a hand held push button control to change the stimulation mode from LOW frequency bursts to HIGH frequency stimulation. The low frequency is used during rest periods (between contractions). As soon as a labour contraction is felt strongly you can change the mode to high frequency stimulation. Once the contraction has subsided you can change the mode back to low frequency.

  • Easy to follow instructions

Enclosed with your TENS unit you will find a small booklet with instructions on how to use your TENS unit. The diagrams are clear and simple to follow. You can also watch videos on how to use the TENS machine.

  • Small and light-weight

Our units are small and light-weight. You can move around easily without feeling restricted in any way

Where can I hire a TENS unit?

You can hire a TENS unit on-line from NatalCare Naturally and we deliver anywhere in New Zealand. The hire fee includes FREE door-to-door courier service and FREE return postage. When booking your TENS online, you select the dispatch date that suits you. We suggest selecting a date around 23 days prior to your due date.

When should I book a TENS?

Anytime during the 2nd trimester is a good time to book your TENS (or earlier if you wish). If you have left it to the 3rd trimester or even a couple of days before your due date, then go ahead and book on-line and a unit should still be available for immediate dispatch.

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