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Tens Machine – Does it actually work for labour pain?

Tens-Machine-for-pain-relief-

Mama Linc is so excited and thankful to welcome Registered Midwife and Founder of MAMA&ICO, Bianca Windlow – as our guest blogger this week.

She will be chatting to us all about the amazing Tens Machine – a fantastic tool for labour.

This was personally Courtney’s favourite non-pharmacological method of pain relief during her labours. She used it for all 3 babies and birthed her third using only the tens machine in boost mode!

What is a TENS Machine?

A TENS machine, which stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, is a device that can be used as an alternative for medication; to effectively treat pain in the body. TENS are used worldwide for muscular pain, back pain, period pain and in recent years they are becoming increasingly popular for women to use in the early stages of labour and for some, right up until their baby is born.

Women are more frequently opting to use TENS in labour for it’s effectiveness at providing non-invasive, drug-free pain relief; with zero side effects reported to mum or baby. TENS machines give women empowerment and a huge sense of self-control, to work with their body and their birth.  “I found it so grounding to have a little bit of control with the TENS to manage the pain”- C. Chew MAMA&ICO. customer.

Labour TENS machines have been designed for easy use during labour; they are portable, lightweight and battery operated giving you the flexibility to use it anywhere. The top of the range devices have a screen that shows you the settings and controls for adjusting the intensity and various parameters. Connected to the TENS machine itself, are lead wires that join to four electrode pads that adhere to your skin via a high quality sticking gel which emit electrical impulses to reduce contraction pains

The Gate Control Theory, and how TENS really works...

The Gate Control Theory?

Some readers may be all over this phenomenon, whilst others are completely confused. Let us explain! TENS works in alignment with the gate control theory of pain. According to the theory, pain signals are transmitted from our bodies nerves to our brain through a series of “gates” in the spinal cord. When these gates are open, pain signals pass through them and our brain processes the pain.

The electrical impulses emited via the TENS are believed to stimulate non-pain carrying nerves which overload our nervous system. Our brain is kept busy and can only focus on so much information at any given time, so it prioritises the TENS pulsations, over pain signals. As a result, the TENS machine closes the “gates” ; the slower and more painful messages (your contractions) have less of an impact = we experience less pain!

The TENS machine also releases endorphins into your body; which are natural pain-relieving substances that also contribute to pain relief, promoting an overall sense of calm and relaxation

How to use a TENS machine in labour

At MAMA&ICO. we use the worldwide award-winning Elle TENS range designed for labour use (Elle TENS, Elle TENS 2 & Elle TENS Plus).  When using one of our TENS machines for labour, there are some general steps to follow:

  1. Make sure you familiarise and practice using the TENS machine prior to labour, thoroughly read the instructions provided with the machine.
  2. At the first sign of labour, start using your TENS to maximise it’s usage and to give your body the chance to build up those pain fighting endorphins.
  3. Attach the electrodes to your mid and lower back; your instruction manual gives you imagery and in-depth details of the exact placement. It is best to have a birth partner, midwife etc. to attach these for you.
  4. Attach the electrodes to the lead wires and then into the top of the TENS.
  5. Switch the machine on, ensure your TENS is in ‘Birth’ mode and start with the controls at the lowest setting. Turn them up gradually as your contractions get stronger.
  6. Use the boost button at the peak of each contraction. The boost function results in a more intense, wave-like tingling or buzzing sensation.
  7. The electrode pads are re-usable and can easily be removed and reattached. 
  8. TENS will not completely take away your pain, and it’s effectiveness varies for each individual. TENS can be safely used in conjunction with many other forms of labour medication, but you will be guided by your health professional if required.

Tips and Tricks

  • There are different types of TENS machines! Standard TENS machines and Labour TENS machines. A standard TENS machine that you may find at your local chemist or supermarket are not designed for use in labour. A standard TENS machine will NOT include:
    + The boost button
    + Higher level of power
    + Contraction timer
    + Large electrodes
  • Hire your TENS early! You can order your TENS machine as soon as you know your due date! Our machines often book out quickly, so we suggest booking yours when you are in your second trimester to ensure you are birth ready.
  • Health Insurance Rebate For those who have extras cover with Private health Insurance, TENS machine hire is often listed as a ‘health aid/appliance’, so you may be eligible to receive a full or partial refund.
  • Clinical Trials TENS has been shown in some trials to significantly reduce the duration of the active phase of labour (Ref. Njogu,A., Qin, S., Y et al.).

For more information or to hire your Labour TENS machine visit MAMA & ICO. at www.mamaandico.com.au  And don’t forget to use Mama Linc’s code for 15% off!

Code: mamalinc15 for 15% off all TENS Hire.

It’s important to note that the tens machine should be discussed with a healthcare provider to ensure safety and suitability for individual circumstances. This blog is general education only. For any personal based advice regarding you or your baby please seek advice from your own healthcare professional.