Five Reasons Why You Should Use a TENS Unit During Labor

by Jillian Silva, ICCE, ICBD


Using a TENS unit during labor offers a drug free option to pain relief. The word TENS is short for transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation which involves the use of low current electrical currents to treat pain. Four electrodes are placed on your upper and lower back area at the site of pain, delivering electricity that travels through the area of nerve fibers just under your skin to bring relief.


TENS units are most beneficial when started in early labor! Firstly, by applying the TENS unit early in labor allows your body’s natural endorphins to release. The tingling sensation of the electrical current allows your brain to release these endorphins and mediate the pain experience. Secondly, by using a TENS unit during labor the Gate control theory of pain asserts that a non-painful input signal (the TENS unit) closes the gates to the painful input from the labor contractions.


A TENS unit can and should be started in early labor for maximum benefit. Mom can use a TENS unit at home in early labor. We know the benefit of laboring at home for early labor which can be roughly 2/3 of your labor! A TENS unit is a small hand held device that is controlled by the laboring mother. A specific unit called an ELLE TENS has an optimax (MAGIC) boost button that Mom presses while having a contraction. This offers a higher level of output during the contraction with just one press of the button, (vs multiple toggles up and down for the generic ones found online or at local pharmacy stores.)  Psychologically, having this “boost” of pulse sensations  is great for Mom because she feels in control of her labor!


Most TENS units are very portable, which give Mom’s the freedom to move and use different positions for labor.  Moms benefit from movement during labor, as we all know. The pads that come with the TENS unit are sticky pads that can be re-applied 10-15 times, so if Mom chooses to try hydro- therapy (bath or shower) during labor, she can remove and re-apply the pads. A TENS unit does not interfere with external monitoring, analgesics or Nitrous oxide. Using a TENS unit in labor may help Mom get to a more optimal point in her labor to receive epidural anesthesia if she chooses.


Maternity TENS units have been used in England and Australia since the 1970’s.  They have been FDA approved for post surgery and traumatic pain, as this article written by Evidence based birth mentions, “The history of using TENS for pain relief may date as far back as the year A.D. 63, when the physician to the Roman emperor reported that he could relieve pain by standing on electrical fish at the seaside.” Would you like a 20% ICEA Discount for your clients to rent an Elle TENS UNIT? Please use code ICEA20 when checking out at Please contact Jillian Silva, ICCE, ICBD at 512-773-2375 for more info! 

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