T is for TENs

TENs As A Natural And Drug-Free Alternative To Pain Medication During Labor

What Is A TENs Unit?

A TENs (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) unit is a handheld device that can assist you with pain relief. Is is a battery powered device with wires that connect to electrodes. The electrodes are placed directly on your skin. Most  units have two electrical pulse modes and a series of options to increase or decrease the strength of the electrical pulse.

TENs units have been used in medical care since the 1960s. They  have been used during labor since the 1990s. It is not yet very common for women to use the unit in labor in the United States. Most of this is simply not knowing that it is an option. It is very common for women in European countries to have access to the units during labor.

What Does A TENs Unit Feel Like When It Is Turned On?

I know that a TENs unit can sound a little bit scary because electrical pulses don’t sound good. You have complete control over your device and the settings when used in labor, so any discomforts the TENs could cause are easily changed. When you first turn the TENs on, it feels like your skin is buzzing. It doesn’t hurt. As you increase the intensity, the experience feels more intense. You keep the intensity up until you feel any kind of pain or discomfort, and you stop at the level just beneath that.

How Does A TENs Work?

TENs units work because they utilize Gate Control Theory. Your brain is super smart. When you are having contractions, your brain is responding to pain receptors. While contractions start off mildly and get more intense as you get closer to welcoming your baby, their pattern is sometimes unpredictable. The TENs is predictable because you’re consciously controlling it. If you turn on the unit before you have a contraction, your brain is going to pick up on the sensation of the TENs before it picks up your contraction. That makes your contraction feel less intense. Additionally, the unit helps to create endorphins in your bloodstream. Endorphins help us naturally work through pain.

The Benefits Of Using A TENs Unit

  • The unit  gives you more control
  • Helps with pain relief
  • It is natural and drug free
  • Can be stopped or removed at any time
  • Creates endorphins
  • Adds comfort
  • Helps to lessen anxiety caused by fear/pain/discomfort
  • The  unit is distracting in a good way

Does It Always Help?

When we use the unit on our clients, they have ALWAYS loved it and thanked me afterward for providing them with use for labor. However, surveys show that 1 in 10 women say that they didn’t think it helped them very much. It is common for women to think the device  is not helping them, until the electrodes are removed. That’s amazing to me because I like labor tools that are out of the way, don’t cause additional pain or discomfort, and can help quietly in the background.