The TENS Unit
The TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve simulator) unit is a nonpharmacological approach to relieve labor discomfort which involves mild electrical impulses delivered through the skin which stimulate nerve fibers. Many women describe this sensation as similar to feeling a shower on their back. The theory is that pleasure reaches the brain faster than pain so delivering this more pleasant sensation to the brain can reduce discomfort caused by contractions, fetal malpositioning, or other discomforts related to labor.
Is it safe?
Yes, the TENS unit is safe for most individuals. It should not be used by those with pacemakers or seizure disorders and must be removed if entering water.
Does it work?
The TENS unit is less common in the United States than in the United Kingdom and Canada. In the UK 1 in 5 women use the TENS unit during labor and of those that use it they rate it moderately to very helpful in relieving pain and would use it again in the future. Read more in this study.
What are the benefits of using a TENS unit?
- Less medication or delay in medication, if this is your desire
- More control (control over the TENS and control over your discomfort)
- Free to walk, change positions, move
- No side effects
- No mental/mood alterations
- Very easy to use
How do I use it?
You will receive four reusable pads and a TENS unit device. The pads are then placed on the back in specific locations that are shown to you by your Stars and Stripes Doulas and/or on your instruction guide. You will place the pads and begin the stimulation during early labor. The maximum benefit of the TENS unit is only reached when initiated before the discomfort grows unbearable. You will then adjust the intensity s needed. One woman said she liked that it had ten levels so she visualized her cervical dilation for each level she adjusted. The obstetric TENS unit that Stars and Stripes Doulas owns also has a boost button to use during contractions. The TENS unit can be removed at any time.
Written by: Melissa Nauss, Owner & Lead Doula of Stars and Stripes Doulas of New Orleans