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All about Pregnancy & TENS machines

Updated: Mar 15, 2023


  • Tens are a safe and effective way to help you manage labour pains

  • Tens are not for everyone - check with your midwife and get to know your device before the big day

  • Updated in March 2023

Brief Background

Tens machines are a common and useful way to manage pain during labour. For many women, the contractions before the actual labour contractions are more painful than they are productive. With a Tens machine, you can give yourself a break from the pain and regain focus and mental strength to deal with those hard, but productive, late labour pains. Having your partner involved by controlling the Tens machine is a fantastic way to include them in your labour and to help you focus on your breathing and headspace. The tens machine is also an ideal way to treat mild contractions that may happen during early labour and may be useful for inducing labour. See our quick "how-to" video below

How they work

Tens machines work by stimulating nerves and interfering with pain signals from reaching your brain. This allows you to focus on more intense contractions that help move your baby through your birth canal. They can be controlled by yourself or your partner during labour. There is a mild to moderate level of discomfort produced by the tens unit, but this is a welcome feeling compared to labour.

The tens machine consists of a small electronic device that attaches to an electrical outlet or is battery powered. Electrodes are then attached to the area of the body that needs treatment - in labour, this is generally across your back. It also comes with a hand-held remote control, which can be used to adjust the intensity of the machine.

Pro's and Con's & Do's and Dont's

Tens machines are extremely safe and give you more power over your labour experience. They are not addictive or habit-forming and you can walk around with them on and going. You can use them as much as needed although you may find them irritable to use for more than 3 hours.

For pregnant women, Tens are not generally recommended until after 37 weeks or until labor pains begin. However this is largely a baseless caution. So long as the unit is used sensibly you can use Tens at any time to manage pain. Sensible use includes - Do not place the pads on your stomach or around the front of your belt line at any time. The pads are only to be placed on your legs or back - see the video. Tens machines can not be used in water. If you are not in labour then do not use "large" pads. If you have a history of pacemaker, miscarriage or epilepsy then you should speak to your mid wife for further advice.

These guidelines come from -

Practical tips

  1. There is a range of Tens rental companies. They loan units for roughly $60 for 6 weeks.

  2. Get to know your machine BEFORE you need to use it, and ensure you have spare batteries and pads handy.

  3. A low setting is great for between contractions. Go as high as you are comfortable with during contractions. Often, units will have a 'boost' button.

  4. Your partner will appreciate having a role during labour - encourage them to learn the Tens machine with you!

A note from us

Tens was a part of my wife and I's plan. We experimented with it after the 37-week mark so Jess would know how it felt and so we could form a loose plan around using it. During labour, I would check in with Jess between contractions and ask if the pads were in a good place and if the intensity was good. When we changed something (and we often did), we would discuss it first then adapted as needed.

I did forget to pack spare batteries! so had to dash home halfway through - needless to say this was not a popular move...

Written by Darryl Jenkins (Experimented on Jess)

TLC osteopaths

Hamilton Nz

Darryl Jenkins is a friendly Hamilton osteopath and co-owner of TLC Osteopaths. His formal qualifications include a undergraduate certificate in Exercise science from Wintec, a degree in Human Biology from Unitec, and a master's degree in osteopathy from Unitec, where he also completed his thesis on human movement assessment. He also holds a postgraduate certificate in acupuncture from AUT and would like to be pursuing the postgraduate certificate in Pain Science at Otago Uni (awaiting spouse approval).

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