A Growing Belly, LLC
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  • Univ. of MD St. Joseph Medical Ctr.

  • University of MD Medical Ctr.

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In order to manage your pain more effectively it is important to use TENS as early in labor as possible. TENS is more effective if you use it in combination with other coping strategies such as relaxation, positioning and massage.

TENS in Labor

A great way of relieving pain in childbirth involves the use of a TENS unit—Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation—commonly used during labor by women in Great Britain and Sweden. In the US, TENS units have been used for years by physical therapists in their rehabilitation of injured patients.


TENS can make a woman more comfortable in labor by using electrical stimulation to increase the release of the body’s natural pain-relieving substances and by blocking the nerve pathways that cause labor pain. Obstetric TENS has been found to be an effective technique for pain control in over 80% of births, especially for back pain in labor, and has no known harmful effects to mother or baby.



What is TENS?

As defined by Eva Bild and Penny Simkin…

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a safe, non-drug method of pain control for labor.

  • It is a handheld, battery-operated device, which transmits mild electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate nerve fibers in the back.

  • It reduces pain in labor whilst allowing the laboring woman freedom to move and walk.

  • It is especially useful for back labor.

  • Research findings on TENS (Carroll et al, 1997) have shown that laboring women using the device use less pain medication than women using a “sham” TENS device.

  • The majority of women surveyed (Chamberlain et al, 1993) rated it as moderately or very helpful in relieving pain, and would use it again in a future labor.

  • A study that investigated the use of TENS for back pain in labor found that “TENS has a specific beneficial effect on pain localized in the back.” (Bundsen et al, 1981).

  • A second study (Thomas et al, 1988) also found relief of back pain with TENS.


How does TENS work?

The TENS unit operates on the Gate Control Theory. When we experience pain, messages are sent along the nerves to the brain and then pain is felt. The TENS unit produces tiny electrical impulses which are sent through the skin to the nerves. This electrical stimulation of the nerves blocks those pain messages from reaching the brain. The brain then registers the tingling sensation produced by the TENS unit rather than the pain.


TENS also increases your body’s production of endorphins – your body’s natural painkillers.


Specific precautions include:


  • TENS cannot be used in the bath or in the shower

  • TENS cannot be used by women who have metallic implants or an implanted electronic device, (e.g. a cardiac pacemaker)

  • TENS should not be used while driving a car

  • TENS should not be used prior to the 37th week of your pregnancy

  • TENS must be turned off before applying or removing the electrodes

  • TENS should be kept out of reach of children


My TENS services


I am certified through DONA International to use the TENS unit on my clients during labor. I own several Lady TENS units. With clients who are interested in trying the TENS unit during their labor, I like to familiarize them with the device during one of our prenatal visits so that they can have full control over the unit during their labor and start using it in early labor. Additional charges may apply to cover the costs of the pads and batteries.


TENS Rentals & Class


Even if you AREN'T one of my doula clients, I DO rent out my TENS units for use during labor for $350 (this includes the $250 refundable deposit). This includes a 1-hour prenatal mini-course on it's use at 37 weeks, precautions, and demonstration of set up. Email me for more information!