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Feb 2

TENS for labour

We see many pregnant women every week, treating their pain, building their strength and capability and educating them about how to best manage pregnancy, labour and new motherhood.  Here is the next in our education series of how Vital Core Physio can support you in this exciting time of your life.


What is TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (T.E.N.S.) has been used to help manage pain in muscles and joints as well as in labour since the 1970’s. It is a simple and safe method to manage pain with no long lasting negative effects. TENS units are small, light-weight and portable devices which run from a 9V battery. They are connected to the skin via thin cables and adhesive easy to use electrodes.


How does TENS work during labour?

TENS works by providing the brain with another ‘signal’ from the same nerve area as the contracting uterus and stretching cervix. You will feel this as a mild ‘tingling’ in the local area. This different signal to the brain helps to alter the sensation we ‘feel’. Rather than ‘feeling’ intense discomfort we can feel ‘some’ discomfort and ‘some’ pain.

TENS also gives your mind something else to focus on. To focus on the tingling sensation, stay in the moment and not focus on the next contraction or birthing your baby.

By easing some of the pain, and keeping our mind in a positive frame we are better able to have a more positive experience of child birth.

The benefits of TENS is greater if you can start using it early in labour as it sets up a routine well before the challenging time begins. It is also great to use in the car on the way to the hospital.

TENS can be used in conjunction with gas (nitrous oxide) and pethidine, but is not advised (or required) with the use of an epidural due to the loss of sensation.

Please remove TENS if you go in the shower or bath.

How do I use the TENS machine?

Your Vital Core Physio will guide you through the setting up of the TENS machine which you can hire from us for a small weekly fee. This is usually around the 37 week mark of pregnancy.

There are two pairs of electrodes.


These locations have been proven to be the best to interact with the nerve signals from the contracting uterus and the effacing and dilating cervical area and pressure to the pelvic floor area.

As labour begins set the electrodes in position as stated above. Turn the TENS to just on (intensity 1).

  • Contraction begins – gradually increase
  • Contraction Peaks
  • TENS intensity matches contraction pain
  • Contraction decreases
  • Gradually decrease TENS intensity

As the contraction ramps up turn the TENS intensity up to match. Remember you just want to ‘match’ the contraction rather than dominate it. As you come over the peak of the contraction, turn the intensity of the TENS down. This helps to maximise your rest period. Continue to increase the intensity of the TENS unit as the labour contractions become more intense, but remember to return it to the minimum as each contraction subsides. This helps remind you to rest.

Following birth

In the days following the birth of your baby you may experience aching type pains similar but often more intense than period pains. You can use TENS to help ease this. Simply place one pair of electrodes over the lower abdomen (warning: this must be used over intact skin – not over a C-Section wound) . The TENS intensity can then be turned up to match the level of discomfort.


Call us on 8331 0552 to make a time to discuss how TENS can help you during labour or to arrange for hire of a TENS unit.  We usually do this session with you at 37 weeks of pregnancy.