Sweet relief – TENS machines and Valley cushions

TENS machine
05 June 2024

BCT members can rent TENS machines and Valley Cushions for pain relief during and after labour. Rosalind Lester, hire coordinator, gives the lowdown on how these aids can help relieve pain simply and naturally during and after birth.

TENS machine in labour

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) works by stimulating the body to produce more endorphins – its own natural painkillers. It also reduces the amount of pain signals sent to the brain by the spinal cord.

TENS is most effective during the earlier stage of labour. You will still feel your contractions, but the pain will be reduced so they will be easier to cope with. It’s important to start early, at the onset of labour, to allow endorphins to build up in the body. TENS starts to work after about 40 minutes.

Your birth partner places four sticky electrode pads on your lower back. These are connected by wires to a handheld, battery-powered machine, which sends small intermittent electrical impulses to the nerve endings in your back. The pulses feel like a low-level tingling sensation.

Dials allow you to control the frequency and strength of the electrical signals. You can also use your thumb to push on the booster button for a more continuous signal during a contraction.

The machine is easy to use and you can use it at home. Because it helps women manage pain and distract from it, you may be able to stay at home for longer. You can move around freely with it on.

TENS can’t be used in water, but if you want to take off the electrodes, for example to have a warm shower, you can mark where they were with a pen to put them back on afterwards. Going to the toilet with it on is possible, although can be a bit awkward. If you want your partner to give you a back massage, (s)he will need to do so around the electrode pads.

You can go into hospital with the TENS machine on, although TENS has not been shown to be as effective during the later active phase of labour. You may therefore want to switch to other methods of pain relief when contractions become more intense and frequent. You may also need to take off the TENS pads if it is interfering with electronic foetal monitoring.

TENS is safe to use from 37 weeks of pregnancy and there are no side effects for you or your baby. It is not however suitable for people with epilepsy or a pacemaker.

If you’re thinking of using a TENS machine during your labour then it’s best to hire it two to four weeks before birth to practise using it. Instructions, disposable electrodes and a spare battery are provided.

Further information can be found at: www.babycentre.co.uk/a542581/using-a-tens-machine-in-labour

“The TENS machine helped me a lot for the birth of my first baby. I put it on as soon as I felt slight contractions at home. It accompanied me for the whole day and night until baby arrived. Psychologically I felt more in control as I could press the button to increase the power when I wanted to. I only took it off to use the bath and really felt the difference without it. My second labour was different as my waters broke first, so although I had the TENS machine with me, I didn’t actually use it!” – Méabh


Valley Cushion for postpartum recovery

A Valley Cushion can help you sit more comfortably after a vaginal birth, when many women have swelling, stitches or haemorrhoids. The foam and air cushion has a central channel to relieve pressure.  This design helps circulation and wound repair.

“After both births I had stitches for a small tear. While I tried to lie down and rest as much as possible, the Valley Cushion allowed me to sit much more comfortably: in the car on the way home from the hospital, for eating, and breastfeeding. It was a relief to know I could use it if I needed to.” – Roz


Hiring from the BCT

Members can hire a TENS machine or Valley Cushion for six weeks. The cost is €20, plus a returnable deposit of €50. If you have any further questions or would like to hire a machine or cushion please feel free to contact Suvi at tens@bctbelgium.org.

By Rosalind Lester, Hire Coordinator, tens@bctbelgium.org

This article was first published in the 2024 spring edition of the BCT’s Small Talk magazine.

This article is about: birth | new mums | postnatal

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