What is a TENS machine in labour?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a form of non-invasive pain relief without medicine (non pharmacological) and can be used to assist with the pain in labour, provided the pregnancy has reached 37 weeks’ gestation. All labours are different and vary in their length of time, however generally many first-time mothers experience labours of 12 to 24 hours in duration, while women having their second or subsequent babies can be in the vicinity of seven hours.


Regardless, using a TENS machine can provide symptomatic relief, during labour and aid mobility.


What are TENS machines?

TENS machines are small portable, battery-power machines with two electrodes that are stuck onto your skin. The machine delivers tiny pulses of electrical signals to the underlying nerves fibres, which can feel like a tingling sensations on your skin. You can adjust the amount of electricity delivered to your body and you must be in labour to use one.


How do TENS machines work?

TENS machines help to stimulate the body’s own mechanisms to cope with pain and helping the brain to release its own morphine-like substances, called endorphins. TENS are thought to block nerves which normally detect painful sensations, thus reducing the sensation of pain. While there is little evidence to understand how TENS work to relieve pain, many women say the machine helped manage their pain and helped them concentrate on something through their contractions.


What are the advantages of TENS?

TENS are non-invasive, are medicine and injection free, with no known side effects to mother or baby. It may help give you some control over your pain relief and you are able to move around while using them. As the machines are portable, they can also be used at home during early labour, and best of all during the car ride to hospital.


What are the disadvantages of TENS?

You can’t use them in the bath or shower, and they do not work on everyone. Using a TENS machine should not be painful, but it can be uncomfortable, or you could experience skin irritation where the electrodes were placed. Speak to your health team if you have sensitivities to tape.

People with pacemakers or some people who have epilepsy should not use a TENS without clearance from your healthcare provider.


Where can I get one?

TENS machines are usually hired through your healthcare professional or hospital, though not all birthing centres or hospitals have them. There are also some hospitals where physiotherapists run classes on how to use them.


You can book an information session at Mater Mothers Hospital between 30 and 37 weeks gestation. The sessions are held on Thursdays at 1 pm. Call (07) 3163 6000 prompts 2 & 2 for more information.

Your Hatch midwife can answer any questions you have about TENS machines and other methods of pain relief available during labour.

Mater Mothers’ Private Hospital in Brisbane has posted this useful video so you can see the TENS machine in action > Using TENS for labour pain | Physiotherapy | Mater Mothers – YouTube