TENS Machines, Pregnancy, and Labor

The TENS machine is a non-pharmaceutical method used as a pain-reliever for affected areas of the musculoskeletal system. The abbreviation TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, which basically explains the process of nerve stimulation that the machine does by channeling low electrical current through the skin (‘transcutaneous’ meaning ‘through or across the skin’).

The TENS machine is a small battery-powered device that is attached on the body through sticky pads that contain electrodes which are connected to the machine. The low electrical current passes through the electrodes, heading to the muscles and tissues of the body – when it reaches them, it causes a slight, tingling sensation.  

Some people prefer the TENS machine over painkillers because it can also stimulate the production of endorphin, which is a hormone responsible for pain-relief in the body. By producing electrical impulses, the TENS machine reduces the pain signals that go to the brain and the spinal cord – this, in turn, can help relax the muscles and ease the pain in certain affected areas of the body.

The TENS machine is often used for various types of muscle pain, neck pain, back pain, knee pain, period pain and can also be used in labor. Considering many people still haven’t heard of this pain-relieving method, or have very limited info, in this article we’re going to try and answer some questions concerning the use of the TENS machine during pregnancy and labor, and hopefully manage to clarify some doubts and uncertainty around it. 

Are TENS Machines Safe to Use During Pregnancy?

TENS machines are generally considered a low-risk, drug-free and non-invasive option for pain relief in early labor, and sometimes later stages of pregnancy.

Burdened with recurring back pain, some women in their late stages of pregnancy opt for the TENS machine, rather than the usual painkillers. Opinions are not entirely conclusive whether the TENS is entirely safe to use while carrying, but a large number of experts agree that these machines should be used after the 37th week of pregnancy. It is important to note that the energy applied to the affected area is not positioned in a way in which it can affect the fetus.

The TENS machine is more commonly used during early labor and can help ease the pain and discomfort caused by the contractions. If the doctor and midwife decide it is safe for use after the early stages of labor, then the TENS machine can also be used during established labor.
Considering it is an electronic device, the TENS may not be suitable or convenient for all births. It is not recommended for people with pacemakers, and cannot be used in the shower/bath or once you get an epidural. Before using the TENS machine during pregnancy or labor always consult first with your doctor.

How to Use a TENS Machine During Labor and Pregnancy?

You should always follow the instructions that are usually part of the TENS machine, although each machine should be fairly similar in terms of its use. The general instruction points are the following:

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using TENS During Labor

The Benefits

Using the TENS machine during labor can be beneficial for the mother for a number of reasons: it can help women feel more in control of the labor process and it doesn’t require a professional to administer the treatment; it can decrease feelings of anxiety and can help distract from contractions. It also keeps women mobile and can be used during home-births.
Many women prefer it because it doesn’t require them to take medications, which is an important choice and option during labor, considering how opioids, anesthetics and other similar analgesics can actually cross through the placenta and affect the baby. The TENS machine is a non-invasive means for pain-relief and it allows mothers to be awake and present during childbirth. Also, unlike other medications and epidural, TENS can be started and stopped at almost any point during labor.

The Disadvantages

Of course, however beneficial and easy to use, the TENS machine comes with certain disadvantages.

Possible Side-effects From Using the TENS Machine

The TENS machine is generally considered to cause very little side-effects. Sometimes it happens that a small number of women may develop an allergic reaction to the sticky pads. Nevertheless, getting latex-free pads might help in countering those reactions.  

Other side effects that may emerge often have to do with overuse of the machine. Overuse can increase the soreness of the area that is treated – if the intensity is set too high, it can cause muscle twitches and other unpleasant sensations.

Where to Get a TENS Machine

TENS machines can either be bought or rented. If bought, they usually cost about 30$ and upwards per device. Since there are a lot of choices on the market, it’s good to consult with your doctor or midwife first for a proper recommendation, and also get the details on the particularities of the product. It’s always better to get a maternity TENS machine, because it has additional options, such as preset modes, boost buttons and contraction timers.

If you plan on using the device often and also for other types of muscle-related pain, then it is advisable to buy instead of rent one, because it will prove cheaper in the end. If you choose to rent, there are several options for short-term rentals. For this, you can check online, or with your healthcare professionals.
TENS is still considered a little-known pain-relief choice, but it’s definitely worth a shot if you decide on methods that don’t include chemicals and substances, and are non-invasive, which can be a preferable safe option for you and your baby. For easier maneuvering among the sea of products, check out our list on the best tens machines that you can use during pregnancy.