Many people use a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit to disrupt pain signals and create endorphins to manage pain. Women often experience discomfort during pregnancy, and a TENS unit can manage pain without medication. However, many wonder if it is safe to use a TENS unit while pregnant.
Fortunately, by taking a few precautions, it is safe to use a tens unit while pregnant.
What Is a TENS Unit?
A TENS unit uses a low-voltage electrical current. This current travels to the body through the electrodes that you attach to your body in specific areas.
To use a TENS unit while pregnant, you attach the electrodes to your body with sticky pads.
When you turn the device on, the current stimulates your nerves and encourages your body to release endorphins.
Pain, pain go away
Endorphins are a natural pain reliever, and your TENS unit will stimulate these endorphins when your unit is on a lower setting.
If you turn the TENS unit up higher, you block pain signals that travel to your brain, resulting in relief from pain.
The theory behind how the TENS unit works to alleviate pain at a lower setting is that only a certain level of stimulation can pass through to the brain at one time. The TENS unit sends a barrage of signals with its buzzing sensation, so the brain focuses on that sensory message rather than pain.
If you have your unit set higher, the sensation is a lot stronger. While it does not necessarily hurt, it gets your body to release endorphins that act as your personal pain protectors.
TENS Unit While Pregnant: How Can It Help?
Many pregnant women experience significant pain in their lower back as well as other areas of the body.
Research supports using a TENS unit to help manage pain because it is effective. Not only does the TENS unit work, but it is also a safe treatment for lower back pain during pregnancy.
Acetaminophen is another worthwhile consideration, as is good posture and specific exercises. However, despite these two options helping, a TENS unit during pregnancy proved more successful with relieving pain, especially in the last trimester.
It is also worth noting that using a TENS unit for pain is a better alternative to pharmaceuticals, which is often not recommended during pregnancy.
How to Use a TENS Unit While Pregnant
First, talk to your doctor about your intended use for the TENS unit.
A TENS unit has different levels of current.
It is believed the lower current is best to build up endorphins.
On the other hand, the higher current levels will block pain transmissions in your body.
Most women find relief from lower back pain by placing the sticky pads on their lower back.
When you first turn on the unit, you will want to begin at a lower current.
You may notice small muscle twitches and a sort of buzzing sensation, which is normal. As you become used to the TENS unit’s current, you can slowly turn up the unit to a level with which you are comfortable.
Consider using the TENS unit for up to 20 minutes at a time. You can use it longer, but the pads may irritate your skin.
Where do the sticky pads go to help with lower back pain?
Your TENS unit will come with a set of sticky pads and two sets of lines with a jack plug.
Plugging everything in is the easy part. Fortunately, placing the sticky pads for relief is relatively easy as well.
Be sure to read the manual that comes with your TENS unit because some pads are black and red, and you will have better results if the instructions say to keep one color further apart on your torse.
Generally speaking, you surround the area that is experiencing pain with the sticky pads. Alternatively, you may place the pads directly over the painful area of your back.
Other suggestions include placement of pads over trigger points.
However, this is where pregnant women need to be careful because some trigger points cause contractions.
Won’t electrical stimulation induce contractions?
If you are careful about where you put the sticky electrode pads, you will not induce contractions.
You might hear the same precautions and areas to avoid regarding massages during pregnancy.
Areas to avoid
The body has trigger points, so you must avoid using the electrodes on some body areas.
There are a couple of areas of the feet and ankles to avoid because those spots may induce contractions.
Also, avoid using the TENS unit on your hand’s webbing between the thumb and your pointer finger.
In some cases, you may wish to avoid shoulder areas, too. We know that is the best place to relieve tension, but you may find there are pressure points on the shoulders that impact the pelvic floor, which is hard at work during pregnancy.
If at any time you notice uterine contractions, shut the TENS unit off right away.
What About During Labor?
Many women use a TENS unit to assist with pain levels during labor, especially in the early parts of labor when there are no stronger pain intervention options.
You might consider using the TENS unit to build up your endorphins before delivery or being induced to help you get through the later part of labor.
Also, your TENS unit does not interfere with pharmaceuticals, although your doctor or midwife may request you turn the TENS unit off at some point.
Therefore, it is best to discuss the unit’s use with your doctor before going to the delivery room, so everyone understands the overall plan to make the experience as comfortable as possible.
If you plan on having a water birth, know you cannot wear the TENS unit in the water.
You can, however, use the unit up until the water birth. In this case, you have an opportunity to build up endorphins before you face the end of the labor.
Also, bring an extra set of electrode sticky pads because your TENS unit is handy after delivery.
Where do the sticky pads go during labor?
There are many configurations to help with your aches and pains during labor.
A popular placement during labor is sticking the first set of pads just below the bra line on either side of the spine.
The second set of pads go on either side of the spine just below the navel line.
Can I Use the TENS Unit After Labor and Delivery?
Pain does not end once you give birth. In fact, a lot of pain lingers well after delivery.
Your TENS unit can see you through post-delivery pains, as well.
For instance, women often feel afterbirth pains, which your TENS unit can help manage.
Often, there is ongoing lower back pain, as well.
If you choose to breastfeed, you might notice shoulder pain as you adjust to holding your baby and nursing, which your unit can help resolve.
Lastly, once your periods begin again, a TENS unit helps manage menstrual pains.
There is an endless supply of reasons to feel pain after birthing a human being, and as you grow older with your baby, you will find countless reasons to use your TENS unit.
Time to Relax
After you check with your midwife and doctor, you can use the TENS unit to alleviate some of the aches and pains that go along with pregnancy. Always check with your medical provider before starting any new treatments — especially when pregnant.
A TENS unit uses a low-voltage current to disrupt how your body interprets pain.
When high enough, the current can increase your body’s development of endorphins, which work like your own personal internal pain pump.
A TENS unit while pregnant does a lot to help with problems with lower back pain. Also, a TENS unit helps during actual labor and delivery.
As long as you remain mindful of where to place your sticky pads and what areas to avoid, you will not induce contractions.
Best of all, your TENS unit will prove useful for the days, weeks, and years beyond your pregnancy, too.
What TENS unit did you use during your pregnancy? Answer in the comments.