What is a TENS Unit - And How Do I Use One In Labor?

Nurse applying the electrodes for a TENS unit to the back for pain relief during labor.

Some of our laboring families LOVE using a TENS unit as a comfort measure during labor, however we find that the device is completely unknown to many others.

If we’ve piqued your interest, keep reading to find out why this little machine can be great for pain relief.

What is a TENS Unit?

A TENS unit, or a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation unit, treats lower back pain in pregnancy and in labor.

Some caregivers are less familiar with using one, but luckily here in the DMV, many practitioners allow their use alongside monitoring and care within the hospital environment.

Ask your care provider if they’re enthusiastic about one!

Using a TENS machine in Labor

A TENS unit is very versatile because the sensation is controlled by the laborer. Four stimulating pads are placed on the lower back on the opposite sides of the spine, and connect by wires to a unit with a thumb switch and an intensity control. 

When connected, during contractions, the laborer can press the button and allow a continuous or pulsing vibration to stimulate the nerves in the lower back. Over time, many women increase the intensity during contractions to allow the sensation to be more distracting than the intensity of their contractions. 

TENS Unit Tips

  • We recommend using a TENS unit from early on in labor, as that’s the best way to ensure that the brain begins to focus on the therapeutic messages from the nerve endings being sent up to the brain. Over time, that focus will allow the tingling sensation from the nerves to be more overpowering than contraction pain. 

  • When getting in and out of a shower or bath, the pads should be removed, and can be replaced on dry skin after the mother has gotten out of the bath or shower. 

Our Recommended TENS Unit

There are a huge variety of TENS Units on the market - all with different features, looks, and price points. Though we of course have not tried them all, can recommend from personal experience the following:

  1. Obi TENS by Babycare TENS

Why you should Consider a TENS unit

Since the TENS operates on batteries and each pad set is unique to the wearer, it’s a small, relatively inexpensive tool that can have a big impact on labor.

Ask your labor doula how to use a TENS unit as part of your comfort measures toolbox!