Podcast Episode #61

TENS Machine for Labour

TENS Machine for Labour: Kath Baquie from FitNest Mama

Today we’ll be discussing the TENS Machine for labour, what it is, and how it might be helpful with pain relief for birth. TENS stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is a method of pain relief that can be used for lots of different things from back pain to period pain to a form of pain relief for childbirth. Today we’re specifically going to talk about an obstetric TENS machine, which one potential form of pain relief during labour.

How do TENS machine work in labour? What do I look for in a TENS hire? And what is the difference between a normal TENS machine and a labour TENS machine? These are all questions we discuss.

On top of the basics, we’ll also talk about who it might be most useful for and who shouldn’t use one. Plus, I’ll share my top tips on how to get the most out of your TENS machine in labour. 

By the end of this podcast, you’ll have more of an idea whether or not you’d like to try the TENS machine for labour, and what type of TENS machine you could try for pain relief during childbirth.

If you’re pregnant, or just want to know a bit more about TENS, then this episode is for you! 


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TENS Machine for Labour



Please note that this transcription was completed with computer voice recognition software. Quite often unanticipated grammatical, syntax, homophones, and other interpretive errors are inadvertently transcribed by the computer software. Please disregard these errors. Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.


If you are pregnant or you’ve recently had a baby, this podcast is for you. I am your host Kath Baquie. a physiotherapist working in women’s health and mum of three. Join me each week as we dive into all things pregnancy care, childbirth, and postnatal recovery, helping you have a wonderful pregnancy and afterbirth experience. And don’t forget to hit subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes.


Well, hello there thank you for tuning in to another episode of the FitNest Mama Podcast. Today we are discussing the TENS machine. What it is and how it might be helpful with labour? So if you are pregnant, or perhaps you’ve heard about the TENS machine and you came to learn a little bit more than this episode is for you. I do have a few quick updates for you before we dive in. So it’s super exciting. There is a free live, 3-Day Pregnancy Workshop kick starting in just a few weeks. It’s 3 Days, 3 Ways to prepare for labour. And this free 3-day event, is starting Wednesday, the first of December 2021. So this workshop has been held a few times, but most recently, it has been a one-hour workshop. And I have previously loved the 3-day format, where we can dive into things a little bit deeper, so it’s back on. And we’re managing to squeeze in one for the remainder of the year. So this workshop has previously received some amazing feedback. And these three days will help to leave you feeling more confident and empowered about your upcoming childbirth experience. So in these three days, you will learn about active birth positions. So what are some of the positions you can use during the different stages of labour, you will learn about pelvic floor preparation, you’ll learn about perineal massage what it is and how it might help to reduce your risk of perineal tears and episiotomy.

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And you’re also going to learn about after birth recovery essentials. And this is designed to help boost that all important early after birth recovery period. And as a women’s health physio, everything I will be sharing in this free 3-day pregnancy workshop. They are things that I believe every woman deserves to know in pregnant to really help with her child birth and after birth recovery experience. So to register for this free workshop before the doors do close, head to www.fitnestmama.com/pregnancyworkshop and the link is also in the show notes.

Alright, let’s get into this episode. So today we’re discussing TENS for labour, like what is TENS? We’re going to discuss why it is used in labour? We’re going to discuss who it might be useful for and who perhaps it isn’t appropriate for. And I’m also going to share my top four tips for using TENS or TENS machine in labour. So TENS stands. That’s a mouthful. So be warned. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. And it is totally a mouthful. So that’s why we do tend to shorten it to the word TENS. And you might have heard it being used to treat back pain, it treats arthritic pain, some people use it to treat period pain, sports injuries. So there’s lots of reasons why you might use a TENS. But today we’re going to be discussing an obstetric TENS, which is a TENS to use during labour.

So just a bit of history behind it. It’s quite interesting. It’s been used as a form of pain relief for quite some time now. And it’s actually been used since the 1970s to help treat pain during labour. So that’s over 50 years, it’s now being used. So I think that’s quite reassuring. So when we discuss a TENS machine, what we’re referring to is this handheld battery operated device, and it’s connected to electrodes which you stick to the skin on your back. It’s a bit of an electrical impulse. It sounds a bit scary, but that just feels like a tingling sensation. It’s like a pins and needles sensation. It isn’t supposed to be painful, and some people do worry about the TENS machine being painful. It’s not. It’s hard to describe so it can definitely feel uncomfortable. But this is generally when the boost button is pressed during contraction. So if you’re in labour, the difference between an obstetric TENS and a normal TENS machine is the biggest difference is that the obstetric TENS machine has a boost button for labour. So you can have it at a low level setting during labour. And then when a contraction or a surge or whatever you want to call it comes along, you’ve got the ability to press a button, and then applies a boost. So it’s pretty clever and pretty nifty. And I used it for my first and second birth. And I thought it was the best thing going back, it gave me this sense of power, this sense of control, I was able to press this button. Anyway, going back to the theory behind, it’s thought to override the pain signals going to the spinal cord and brain which can help to relieve pain and relax your muscles. So evidence for TENS, it is a bit patchy, I do have to say, we know that TENS doesn’t seem to have an effect on the length of labour. We know it doesn’t have an effect on interventions in labour, or the wellbeing of mothers and babies. So it’s, it’s this evidence that it’s a popular method, and it’s safe as well. Whether or not TENS actually does relieve pain efficiently, or whether or not, it is helpful because it helps to take the woman’s focus off the pain and increase their sense of control during labour. That’s where I think the uncertainty lies. So it’s not clear whether TENS actually reduces pain. But it’s a really popular choice, because it is believed that women can find it helpful.

So let’s discuss the advantages of TENS. And then some of the things to be aware of, and then that might help you decide whether or not it is or it may be useful for you. So the advantages of TENS is that it doesn’t require medications or injections, it is thought to give you some control over your pain relief. And that control cannot be under estimated like that, for me what’s amazing the fact that I had that control, because there’s so much out of your control. Another advantage of the TENS machine is that you’re able to move about so you’re not fixed to your bed, you’re able to walk with it, you’re able to tuck the machine, they generally have a clip, so you can attach it to your waistband of whatever you’re wearing. And you can move around. You can also use other methods of pain relief if TENS doesn’t give you enough. So it’s something else in your toolkit that you might find useful during labour, because let’s face it, we don’t really know how your labour is going to pan out and what’s going to happen. So what we’re discussing today is a potential extra tool in your toolkit if you choose to investigate it more. So the advantages that are discussed in the literature is that it doesn’t work for everybody, like there’s no guarantee it’s going to work for you. And also, this is important to note, it can’t be used in the bath or the shower, so you can’t use it with water. However, if you do want to have water, he can take it off and have your shower or your bath. And then as long as you’re dry properly, before you put it on again, that’s fine.

So check with your team that’s with you. Your midwives and all the rest with that point. And then it’s generally thought that TENS is very safe. But I do just want to mention when it shouldn’t be used. And if in doubt, do please, do check with your healthcare provider. So it shouldn’t be used on any open wounds or irritated skins. It shouldn’t be used while driving. But hopefully you won’t be driving yourself to the hospital. It shouldn’t be used by women who are pregnant but not in labour. But anyone who’s got a pacemaker or a cochlear implant or if you’ve had epilepsy. So if in doubt, or if you’ve got any medical conditions you’re not sure about just to chat to your healthcare team. So generally the biggest irritation that people do find, like in terms of the physical side of things is that some people do have a bit of irritation of the skin where the electrodes are stuck. So that’s generally the biggest side effect is that whether or not you’re allergic to certain band aids and tapes and that sort of thing, then maybe you might get a bit of an irritation, but I haven’t heard of anyone that’s had that side effect. Right. So we’ve gone through a bit of history, we’ve talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages.

Now let’s talk about my top few tips. So first of all, it sounds simple, but do make sure you’ve got an obstetric TENS. So don’t just use something that someone’s given to you that second hand that perhaps they used on their back if they’ve had back pain or sports injuries, so you need to make sure it’s an obstetric TENS and it has a boost button. The second tip is to become familiar with the TENS unit. Don’t do what I did my first one and not get it out the packet until you’re in labour. Because if you go into labour at 2am in the morning, you’re not going to want to fumble around reading instruction manuals and learning how to put it on. So give yourself a little bit of a basic understanding and have a chat to your birth partner. Like where do you put the electrodes? You know, what do you plug into what, and how do you turn on the machine. And most of the machines and the units these days actually have really quick, easy, clear instructions. But even so, I do think a little bit of a practice run just in terms of familiarizing yourself with the machine is amazing in case you go into labour in the middle of the night, when you’re both exhausted. And my first baby, she’s eight years old. So back in those days, it didn’t have a TENS machine that I was aware of that included a contraction timer. I now know that all TENS plus and add this probably more as well. But they time your contraction every time you push the boost button. It’s also a contraction timer.

I reckon that’s amazing, because I personally remember sitting there with my TENS machine in one hand, and my phone with the contraction time in the other hand, so I didn’t have any spare hands. So if you can find yourself, TENS machine with a contraction timer, you might find that really helpful. And then you can pop the TENS machine on your pants you’re wearing, and then you’ve got your hands free. A third tip would be pop your TENS machine on sooner, rather than later. It might be tempting to not bother putting the machine on, because you don’t have much pain. Or if you feeling like things are really good, don’t bother putting the machine on, we just don’t want to wait until the pain levels have increased over a certain threshold. Because then it’s thought that the TENS machine might not be effective. So the sooner you can pop it on, the better. And I also think just from a practical point of view, when you’re a bit more immobile, to pop it on sooner rather than later. It’s just really useful. The last thing is to think about the hire period. So you can purchase or you can hire. Often the hire period is either four weeks or eight weeks, if you’re going to hire one, I personally don’t think four weeks is enough, because I distinctly remember being 36 weeks pregnant and thinking oh, I could go into labour at any stage. But then I was worried that if I was going to go into labour early, I wouldn’t have my machine. But if I was going to go into labour late, then I was worried about the timeframe and going over. So just to take away you don’t need any additional stress. If you can get an eight week hire period, that’s amazing because it gives you plenty of time each side and you don’t need to rush about returning it. So one last thing is the TENS machine can be used in conjunction with all the other things that you’re learning. So whether or not you’re learning hypnobirthing techniques, or you’re learning calm birthing, or you’ve been learning mantras or deep breathing relaxation strategies, like whatever you choose to use. The TENS machine can be used alongside those other tools that you’re developing along the way.

So there you have it, ladies, short and sweet. We’ve talked about the history behind the TENS machine. We’ve talked about why it’s thought to be helpful. We’ve talked about some of the advantages and disadvantages and my top tips. So send me a message on Instagram @fitnesrmama. I would love to hear from you. Have you used the TENS machine before? Are you interested in that using the TENS machine like come and send me a message, I would love to hear from you.

And don’t forget ladies, the 3-Day Pregnancy Workshop, it’s totally free. It’s kick starting Wednesday the first of December so come and sign up super easy to sign up. It’s www.fitnestmama.com/pregnancyworkshop and the link is in the show notes and I can’t wait to dive into active birth techniques pelvic floor essentials and afterbirth recovery tips. So I look forward to seeing you there and come and say hi on Instagram, @fitnestmama. Have a fabulous day everyone and I look forward to you joining me next week for another episode of the FitNest Mama Podcast.

Thanks for listening to the FitNest Mama Podcast brought to you by the FitNest Mama Freebies found at www.fitnestmama.com/free. So please take a few seconds to leave a review, subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. And be sure to take a screenshot of this podcast, upload it to your social media and tag me, @fitnestmama, so I can give you a shout out too. Until next time! Remember, an active pregnancy, confident childbirth, and strong postnatal recovery is something that you deserve. Remember, our disclaimer, materials and contents in this podcast are intended as general information only and shouldn’t substitute any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. I’ll see you soon!

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