I recently completed an advanced doula training with Sunday Tortelli to learn about TENS for labor. I love continuing education opportunities and I strive to be able to offer my clients a variety of options to help them have a more comfortable birth experience!
TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is a method by which electrical currents are used to stimulate nerves for pain relief purposes. TENS units are commonly used by physical therapists, chiropractors, and for women in labor. They are not currently in widespread use for labor purposes in the U.S., but are a popular tool in Canada, Australia, and parts of Europe.
TENS units work by sending mild electrical currents through the skin via electrode pads placed on the area of discomfort, for labor purposes they are placed on the lower back. The person wearing the pads controls the level of stimulation and feels a light pulsing or vibrating sensation as the unit stimulates the muscles. These sensations work to interrupt the nerve pathways, which decreases pain, while increasing the body's own pleasurable hormonal response, endorphins, to help naturally ease discomfort.
Research shows that TENS units are most effective at relieving back labor, which is often challenging to manage, and many women who have experienced TENS in labor report that they would want to use the tool again for future births.
TENS is a safe option for relief of some types of labor pain and can be easily utilized or discontinued if necessary. I'm excited to now offer this as a tool for labor!