I think we can agree that at some point during our pregnancy or leading up to our due date, we’ve all worried about labour and birth pain. There are many options for pain relief during labour and birth but today’s blog is all about  Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation (TENS) for labour and birth pain.

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and is:

  • A non-pharmacological option (non-drug) to manage pain during labor and birth.
  • Uses electrical current to stimulate nerves and pain receptors in the body to provide pain relief
  • Places electrodes  over the lower back/pelvic region during labor and birth to provide pain relief.
  • Used in conjunction with other pain relief options.
  • Has been used since the 1970s to help provide pain relief during labor and birth

You can apply TENS using a small hand held device- just like in picture below. There are many TENS units on the market- but this is one we like to recommend to patients as it’s got a great price point and offers the ability to alter your settings so you can maximize it’s effectiveness during labor and birth.


So What does the research say about TENS (because let’s be honest… I love research)?

Dowswell et al. (2011).

  • Women using TENS were less likely to rate their pain as severe. Many women said they would be willing to use TENS again in a future labor.

Shaban et al. (2013)

  • Forty-eight hours after the birth, the people who used TENS during labor were much more satisfied with their birth, on average, compared to the people who received the injectable pain medication, Demerol.
  • Of those who received TENS, 83% reported being satisfied compared with only 10% of those who received Demerol.
  • Furthermore, those who received Demerol also reported side effects such as drowsiness, nausea and vomiting. Babies in the Demerol group also had lower Apgar scores after birth. There were no adverse side effects reported in the TENS group

Santana et al. (2016)

  • This study suggest TENS helps reduce pain when applied after 4 cm of dilation. In the TENS group- only 34% of people said that their pain was a seven or higher compared with 83% in the standard care group.
  • On average, patients in the TENS ended up waiting about seven hours before they requested additional medication for pain relief compared to two hours in the group that did not receive TENS.

Shahoei et al. (2017)

  • Significant differences in pain levels at two, three, and four hours after TENS is applied.
  • For example, in the second stage of labor, during the pushing phase, only 20% of the people in the TENS group reported their pain as severe compared to about 83% – 87% of people in the other two groups.
  • When they asked people about four hours after the birth how they recalled the severity of their pain, only 7% of people in the TENS group recalled severe pain compared with 43% of people in the placebo group, and 60% of people in the standard care group.

Our Take Home Message:

So to summarize, TENS is quite helpful for managing pain during the labor and birth process and it’s a great drug free option, that’s easy to use and easy to apply.  It should be noted however that it is not appropriate for people who have:

  • Any implanted medical devices
  • A diagnosis of epilepsy
  • A suspected malignancy or cancer
  • Frail or broken skin
  • Hemorrhagic or bleeding disorders

So chatting with your healthcare provider about it’s appropriateness is important to do before you use it.

Whether you’re planning to go drug free or not- it can be used in early stages of labor for comfort, or even as an option if you’re waiting for your epidural (because those anesthesiologists are busy!).

It also used for incision pain post birth if you end up in c-section.

Interested in learning more about TENS? Keep following along as future blogs will focus on how to apply it as well as different settings to use during labor and birth.

If you are considering TENS as an alternate way to manage labor and birth pain then we do recommend a session with a Women’s health physiotherapist who can set up your unit for you and review proper application. This session + the unit is typically covered by your extended insurance as well (win-win!).

You can book a session with us or  find awesome women’s health physiotherapists here.

Thanks for following along.


Eryn & Katie