When it comes to giving birth, most women want to know: how much is it going to hurt and will they be able to cope with the pain? Unfortunately, you can’t answer either of these questions with certainty. But what you can do is improve the ability to cope with pain during labour, as well as understand the options for pain relief and their impact on mum-to-be, labour and baby.
While you are pregnant, you may feel your uterus (womb) tightening from time to time. These are called Braxton Hicks contractions. When you go into labour, this tightening feeling becomes regular and much stronger.
The tightening may cause pain that feels like period pain, and usually becomes more painful the further you get into labour. Different women experience labour pains in different ways.
If medication is used to start off (induce) labour or speed up your labour, your contractions may be more painful.
Most women use a range of ways to cope with labour pain. It is a good idea to have an open mind and be flexible.
Research suggests that adequate preparation can help to reduce pain or at least modify the perception of pain and reduce anxiety, which can help cope with labour. There are several pain relief options: three main medical pain-relieving options (Nitrous oxide, Pethidine or Epidural anaesthesia) and non-drug pain relief (self-help techniques, complementary therapies and TENS).
Maternity TENS machines have an excellent reputation as one of the safest, most effective forms of modern pain control available to women during childbirth. Midwives recommend Maternity TENS as the machines enable mothers to remain mobile and upright during labour; aiding the descent and dilation whilst providing a more natural, drug-free form of pain relief. It’s probably most effective during the early stages, when many women experience low back pain.
How Maternity TENS works
A maternity TENS machine consists of a battery-powered, hand-held controller connected by fine leads to four flat pads. The pads are covered in a firm gel that helps them stick to your back. Maternity TENS works in the same way as general TENS by: preventing pain signals from reaching your brain and stimulating the body to release endorphins. Additionally, it helps mum-to-be to feel in control of the labour and be less anxious and it also offers a distraction from the contractions.
The machine sends small, safe pulses of electrical current via the leads to the pads on your skin. The pulses pass through your skin and into the muscles and tissues. This gives a gentle tingling or buzzing sensation, which may be stronger or weaker, depending on the setting level. A TENS machine has buttons that you can use to control the frequency and strength of the pulses. There’s also a boost button when you want maximum output from the machine. This may help you to get through each contraction.
Benefits of TENS
•Safe for mother and baby
•Recommended by midwives and GPs
•9 out of 10 women find TENS helpful in labour
•Mum-to-be remains in control & mobile
•Can be used from the onset of labour, helpingwith transition from home to hospital
• Can be safely used in conjunction with analgesics such as pethidine or standard gas and air
•Can be used to manage after birth pain, post-episiotomy pain and general back.
In 2013 survey of more than 1,200 mums who had given birth within the last five years (conducted by the Department of Health’s Maternity Matters), almost 30% of respondents had used a maternity TENS machine while giving birth, and the majority of those who used one, confirmed it provided effective or very effective pain relief.
When to use TENS?
TENS is most effective when used from the onset of labour as this allows the body time to build endorphin levels. This can take around 30-40 minutes.
The advantage of using maternity TENS in early labour is that they don’t involve drugs, so there are no side-effects for you and your baby.
Many women find TENS particularly effective in the early stages of labour, giving them pain relief at home. Using TENS gives mum-to-be control over her pain relief, which in turn can help her to feel more relaxed. For some women using TENS could mean staying in the comfort of her own home for longer. It also enables her to remain mobile and upright, which can aid descent and dilatation.
Not only can TENS be beneficial throughout labour, it can also be used to relieve back pain in the later stages of pregnancy.
TENS can also be used to ease post operative pain following a caesarean, perineal tear or episiotomy and is safe to be used in conjunction with other forms of
General TENS vs Maternity TENS
Unlike general TENS machines, the mamaTENS, mamaTENS MyTime and perfect mamaTENS machines have preset programmes which are specifically designed to help relieve pain through each stage of labour.
They also offer a boost button which allows mums-to-be to rapidly increase the intensity to provide additional pain relief during contractions.
TensCare maternity TENS units use extra large pads to ensure that all the relevant nerves are covered to give the most effective pain relief.
In our recent survey of more than 5,350 mamaTENS users, 90% confirmed it provided effective pain relief and that they would use a maternity TENS again for consequent labour. These results correlate very closely with the earlier survey of 10,000 users compiled by Professor Mark Johnson in 1995.