Have you already heard about ‘TENS machines’ and wondered what in the world they were? Or perhaps this is the first you’ve heard of one and now you are curious! Allow us to introduce this drug-free pain-management tool for use during labour…
TENS is an acronym that stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. The TENS machine is a small (about 8 cm long), portable machine that is used to treat pain. The BCT hires out TENS machines made specifically for use during labour.
The machine has four rectangular electrodes that are applied to the back in specific places to stimulate the nerves to relieve pain during labour. The TENS pulses feel a bit like a flicking or tingling sensation on your back. Whilst its mechanisms are not completely understood, one way it is thought to work is to stimulate the body’s production of endorphins, which are your own natural pain relievers. It may also serve to intercept pain signals on their way to the brain.
The TENS machine helps women manage their pain, which can enable them to stay at home longer, to delay an epidural (the length of whose effectiveness decreases over time), or even to have a completely ‘natural’ childbirth. It is generally recommended to start using the TENS machine right at the onset of labour.
The BCT has two models of TENS machine from which women can select, so they can make a choice which suits their personalities and preferences. The first model is very simple, with the basic settings all preset, allowing the woman simply to control the intensity of the stimulation, with an added booster button to provide continuous stimulation when required during contractions. The other model has these features too, but also allows the user to control the machine’s pulse rate and width, as well as controlling the intensity separately for the different pairs of electrodes. Some women believe that part of the effect of the machine is the distraction, and like to play around with the settings, while other women say the last thing they want during labour is to be messing with buttons and dials and so opt for the simpler version!
The TENS machine is safe to use from 37 weeks of pregnancy and has no side effects. It is not, however, recommended for use by women who have a pacemaker fitted or by those who suffer from epilepsy.
Further information (including a list of pros and cons) can be found at: www.babycentre.co.uk/pregnancy/labourandbirth/painrelief/tens
By Michelle Tepper (article slightly adapted)
This article was first published in the November/December 2012 edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.