TENS unit for Labor

I currently include the TENS unit in the price of all of my doula packages. After training to use the TENS with my clients I realized how wonderful this tool was and how helpful it is in birth! I couldn't imagine not using every tool I have at my disposal to help my clients achieve the birth that they desire. It seemed silly to me to deny a client this option just because they didn't know how helpful it would be and they didn't rent it or choose a package that included it before labor. 


I am excited to offer TENS unit rentals for doula clients! This is a non-pharmaceutical option to help bring pain relief in labor! 

What is a TENS? 

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is a hand-held devise that connects via wires to 4 special stickers/pads attached to the laboring woman's back. The electrical pulses go just below the skin to stimulate the nerves. 

How does the TENS create pain relief? 

The TENS unit provides pain relief in two ways. The consistent nerve stimulation creates an increase in endorphins and that helps to reduce your perception of pain. It also works through what we call Gate Control - the nerve fibers in your body that carry pain receptors are smaller and slower "highways to the brain" than those that carry the touch receptors that the TENS unit stimulates. It is kind of like touching a hot stove, you knew you touched it because you felt your hand touch a hard object. You knew intellectually that it was hot and you should react and you have lifted your hand off before your brain has registered that it hurts. With the TENS unit, your brain recognizes the contractions but is previously occupied with the stimulation the TENS unit is providing and it reduces your perception of the intensity of the contraction. 


I have a TENS unit that my chiropractor gave me, can I just use this instead? 

No, probably not. TENS are not made the same. Some stimulate the muscles rather than the nerves. Not all of them are set up to change settings like you need to in labor to meet the demands your body needs with the contractions. The TENS unit I exclusively use with doula clients is imported from the U.K. where TENS units are commonplace in hospitals as an alternative to epidurals (they don't use epidurals routinely) and the mother is able to control the intensity for upper back from lower back, left and right so it is exactly what she needs at that moment! These units also have different settings to change the pattern of the stimulation pulses. With other TENS units it's recommended that you turn them off and on to create a similar effect... what a hassle! 

Benefits of using a TENS unit

  • You maintain your mobility, you aren't attached to the bed to use it! It can be used in any location (not water, it is electric) so it's a great option for laboring at home, birth center or hospital birth! 
  • It does not have side effects! Just about every other thing that you might receive for pain relief has a side effect of some form (even seemingly benign things like a bag of IV fluids!) so this is a great low-risk option! 
  • You can take it off or put it on at any point in labor. It's a no obligation option! Research does show that it is most effective when used in early labor and then throughout but it's beneficial regardless. Unlike any intravenous drugs or epidural, there is a wearing off period where you have to wait for the drugs to leave your system. This isn't the case with the TENS. When you take it off, it's done. 
  • In a study regarding the use of a TENS in labor, the majority of women who used one in labor said they would do it again in a future labor! 
  • It can be effective for back labor! This is a big deal considering even epidurals are not always and effective pain relief option for back labor! 

What else should I know?

  • You should not use a TENS unit before 37 weeks of pregnancy (unless you're already in active labor).
  • It can't be used in the water, so if you're planning a water birth it has to come off before you go into the tub. It is still fine to use it when you aren't in the water! 
  • It doesn't completely take away labor pains, this is just something to help - another coping tool. Some women report that they didn't realize how much it was helping until they took it off, so they asked to have it back! 
  • You cannot use it if you have epilepsy or a seizure disorder. You cannot use it if you have very high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia. 
  • You cannot use it if you have a heart arrhythmia or a pacemaker


I teach all my clients the ins and outs of the TENS unit at one of our prenatal visits so you aren't learning the device when you are in labor. Let me know if you have any questions! 



Rebekah Lewis provides birth doula services and postpartum belly binding in the North Texas area including Denton, Decatur, Gainesville, Krum, Aubrey, Flower Mound, Grapevine, Coppell, Highland Village, North Fort Worth, Keller, McKinney, and surrounding areas.