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  • Writer's pictureArielle & Ashley

Labor Pain Management: Using a TENS Unit

If you are planning to have a natural delivery without pain medications, you are probably researching all the natural pain reliefs you can find. Maybe you’ve used a TENS unit before your pregnancy to help with various aches and pains or maybe you’ve never heard of one before now. Maybe you never even considered that a TENS unit could be used for labor.

A TENS unit is a handheld, battery operated device that connects to pads placed strategically on the laboring person’s back to disrupt the pain signals to the brain. A constant, low level electric sensation is sent from the device through the wires into the stimulating pads attached to the skin, affecting the muscles below. It is helpful to begin using it early in labor and increase the intensity as the labor intensity also increases.

A benefit to a TENS unit is that it does not disrupt the body’s own natural hormone balance or the ability to function mentally. Because the unit can be attached to the laboring person’s body by clip or lanyard, it allows freedom of movement. The use of a TENS unit in labor has been linked to laboring individuals postponing their request for pain relieving drugs and may even be particularly helpful for those experiencing back labor.

If there is a need for internal fetal monitoring, it may be necessary to discontinue the use of the TENS unit, but should not interfere with standard external fetal monitors. Make sure you get permission from your provider to use the TENS unit before your labor begins. This is a great topic for discussion prenatally during your appointments as you begin to formulate your birth plan. If you decide to get into water, such as a bath or shower, make sure to remove the TENS unit first. When you get out, dry the area thoroughly and you can begin to use it again.

It is important that you do not use a TENS unit before the 37th week of pregnancy, if you have a history of seizures, if you’ve been diagnosed with preeclampsia, or have a pacemaker.

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