TENS in Labor

There are many techniques a doula can use to help you with the pain and discomfort of labor; like massage, counter pressure, heat and cold therapy, position changes, etc. However, recently I was introduced and trained in yet another great comfort measure for labor. The TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) has been used for years to help control pain and labor is a great place to see it in action.

So what exactly is a TENS?

Tens in labor
  • It is a handheld, battery-operated device, which transmits mild electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate nerve fibers in the back that is controlled by the laboring client. 
  • It reduces pain in labor while allowing the laboring woman freedom to move and walk.
  • It is especially useful for back labor.

Is there research about the TENS in labor?

  • Research findings on TENS (Carroll et al, 1997) have shown that laboring women using the device use less pain medication than women using a “sham” TENS device. 
  • The majority of women surveyed (Chamberlain et al, 1993) rated it as moderately or very helpful in relieving pain, and would use it again in a future labor. 
  • A study that investigated the use of TENS for back pain in labor found that “TENS has a specific beneficial effect on pain localized in the back.” 

Why does is work?

  • Gate Control Theory of Pain: basically non-painful or pleasurable sensations travel to the brain faster than painful sensations, therefore reducing the amount of pain sensations felt.
  • The TENS actually stimulates your body to make its own natural pain relieving hormones called endorphins.
  • The laboring mother controls the TENS so she is able to take control, in a sense, of what is happening with her body.

Who should use it?

  • Any laboring mother who has received consent from their care provider who doesn't suffer from epilepsy or have a cardiac pacemaker.

The TENS is a safe and effective way to reduce the sensation of pain during labor. If you are interested in using a TENS during your labor be sure to check with your care provider and discuss your choices with your birth team and doula.


*Information modified from Penny Bussell


Baby Byrd Doula

About eight years ago, I got pregnant for the first time. I did tons of research. I looked into birthing centers, doulas, general information about pregnancy, labor and delivery. Sadly, my pregnancy ended at 8 weeks. I got pregnant again, but was devastated by a miscarriage at 14 weeks. My husband and I decided to start the adoption process and keep trying to have a baby. I kept reading as much as I could about pregnancy and fertility. A thought struck me: maybe I should be a doula. Shortly after this thought in 2008, we adopted our first son. Now that I was a new mom, being a doula was out of the question. I got pregnant three more times over the course of three years and all ended in miscarriage. Gratefully, we adopted another boy in 2011. At this point many of my friends were having their first babies and I had so much knowledge of pregnancy and labor that they started coming to me for information. Eventually one friend encouraged me to do something with that information to help other women. This reignited something inside of me-- my desire to be a doula. This was my opportunity to help bring life into this world. Being a doula is not only life giving for the mom, but also for me—the doula!