What is a TENS unit and how can it help with labor pain?
What is a TENS Unit?
Silver Spring Doula now offers TENS Unit Rental!
TENS stands for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation”
A TENS unit is a simple device that generates mild electrical impulses. It transmits them via stimulating pads placed on the laboring person’s skin. It is a comfort measure that is very simple to operate during labor that facilities an active birth.
Most people who have visited a chiropractor or a physical therapist have experienced the use of a TENS unit. The type used in labor is self-administered and controlled, and much simpler to use.
What is the purpose of a TENS Unit?
Research shows that the TENS Unit increases the endorphin level in laboring people. This in turns lowers the perception of labor pains. When used on a high frequency, the TENS Unit stimulates non-pain-transmitting nerve fibers. This stimulation overrides other nerve signals carrying pain message to the brain. It works on the Gate Control Theory of Pain. When used on a low frequency, the TENS Unit stimulates the production of endorphins. It does this by activating opioid receptors.
So what does this mean in real English?
In practical terms, the TENS unit provides focus and distraction. This has the affect of doing a few different things. It tends to lessen the perception of pain. The unit changes the conscious pain messages going to the brain, and so reduces awareness of the pain. It can also reduce or delay the request for an epidural and ease back pain. A huge benefit is that it gives the laboring person back a sense of control. All these things tend to increase the laboring person’s sense of satisfaction. TENS Units also lower the need for interventions, since people using TENS units are more likely to be moving during their birth. There is no loss of sensation like what you experience with an epidural. There is also no loss of mental function like when birthing people use nitrous oxide or IV narcotics.
How does it compare to an epidural?
The TENS unit is super helpful for back labor and a prolonged, painful prodromal labor. However, it is important to note that the TENS unit does not take away contraction pain like an epidural. The unit must be used early in labor if it is going to be effective in active labor. Most people who use it report easier labors, and are more satisfied with their birth. It has been used all over the UK and Sweden for many years.
What are the side effects of a TENS Unit?
None. There are no side effects for the laboring person or for the baby.
How can I get my hands on one?
Silver Spring Doula rents TENS units to all our clients who want one! We also have limited unit availability for people who are not SSD clients. The rental includes the control unit, 4 reusable electrode pads for your use (the pads can be removed and reapplied dozens of times), extra batteries, instructions, and a carrying case. You can request one in the client area. We will either mail it to you, or bring it with us when we expect to see you (at your private or community prenatal).
The TENS unit rental fee is $10 (which covers the electrode pads and batteries). There is a $65 refundable deposit that we will return to you when we receive the unit back in good condition.
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