Posted on 23rd May 2012 @ 07:38
No woman knows how they will respond to labour. Even having done it once, subsequent labours can be quite different. We all have different views on the type of labour we want and the pain relief we might consider.
My advice to any new mum would be to understand all the options available to you before going into labour. It’s good to be able to make an informed decision during labour, even if it is “just give me drugs!” Labour means a loss of control as you body is doing something that you don’t have a lot of say over, so if you can have some control over any part of labour, that can make it seem a lot les scary.
One method of pain relief that is totally under your control during labour is a TENS machine. TENS stands for ‘transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation’. It can be used from the very start of labour, and in fact it takes a while to build up effectiveness, so the earlier you use it the better.
Tens machines work by giving out little pulses of electrical energy via four sticky pads that are attached via wires to the control unit. The pads are used with gel to allow the electrical pulses to be conducted through the skin effectively. Two pads are placed at about bra strap level, either side of your spine and the other two at the bottom of your back. You then have control over the frequency and intensity of the pulses via the control unit. Although each TENS machine will vary slightly, there will be dials for adjusting the frequency and strength of the pulses and a boost button for you to hold in your hand and press when you want maximum output at the height of a difficult contraction.
Tens machines work well for some women and others find them an annoyance. They work by stimulating the body to produce its own endorphins, the bodies’ feel good substance and natural pain relief. They can also help by giving you more control over your contractions and provide a distraction. Because they do take at least an hour to reach maximum effectiveness it’s worth persevering before assuming it’s not for you. You can also purchase additional pads for your TENS machine (though they can be used more than once) so you can try it at home before labour starts. You might find it helps with late pregnancy backache for example.
Some women use a TENS machine at the start of labour and find that they may need a stronger means of pain relief as labour becomes more established and others use it all the way through labour. It’s recommended that you start with the pulses at their lowest level and gradually turn them up when you feel that you need more help managing your contractions.
SHOULD I BUY A TENS MACHINE?
Don’t assume your local hospital will provide one as a pain relief option. A TENS machine is less effective when started later in labour, so hospitals feel that by the time a woman arrives with them a TENS machine may not be the best pain relief option. Some hospitals do hire them out so check with your midwife.
It’s possible to hire a TENS machine and an internet search will bring up several companies happy to supply one. You would probably need to hire it for at least a month to make sure that it was available at the right time.
TENS machines are available to buy at reasonable prices and this is a good option if you are planning more children and may wish to use it for subsequent labours. TENS machines can also be used to treat general aches and pains (chiropractors use the same electrical pulse treatment) and on other parts of the body so it may be worth buying if you think you will use it more than once.
- It’s easy to use
- It can be used at home.
- It’s portable.
- It’s non invasive.
- It has no lasting side effects for you or your baby.
- It’s under your control.
- You can stay mobile while using it.
- It may only help in the early stages of labour.
- It may not help at all.
- You will (probably) have to pay to buy or hire.
- You will need help to position the pads correctly.
- You can’t wear it in the bath or birthing pool.
- You may have to remove it if your baby needs monitoring.
I used a TENS machine during labour and I have no idea if it made things more bearable or not – I wasn’t going to take it off to find out! I do know that it gave me some control, provided distraction and even some giggles when constantly pressing the boost button at the wrong time. The good thing is, unlike some other types of pain relief, if it doesn’t work for you every other option is still open. You have nothing to lose by trying it.