Saturday, September 10, 2011

Using a TENS unit during labor

Straight from Wikipedia: "Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (acronym TENS) is the use of electric current produced by a device to stimulate the nerves for therapeutic purposes."
TENS unit
Back when I was a swimmer I had some really bad rotator cuff issues. I was able to obtain a TENS unit and using it along with the physical therapy, I was able repair all the damaged tissues in my shoulder and it really helped with the pain. 

Last night our Bradley instructor randomly brought up the use of a TENS unit to help with back labor / any other pain during labor. I immediately asked what the cons of using the device during labor are and she said that there's a lot of controversy regarding it. Obviously, this was not the answer I wanted and so I chose to do my own research. I was able to find that while certain uses of the TENS unit could be considered unsafe (like placed over your uterus), using it for other areas (feet, legs, back) is considered safe (read: there are no adverse side effects). 

But this makes me wonder - is using a TENS unit during labor still considered having a natural birth?

Unlike the epidural or other pharmaceuticals for pain management, the TENS unit is not a drug. It can be started / stopped / removed / and is focused in one specific area via the electrode pads. The TENS unit is not recommended to use during the actual delivery, and therefore it is still natural...... right? 

"The Gate Control Theory- This theory suggests that there’s a neural mechanism in [the] spinal cord that acts as a kind of gate, shutting down or opening up the flow of signals from the periphery to the brain. Whether the gate is open, closed or partially closed depends on what sort of signal it receives from the brain to change the perception of pain in the user’s body. These frequencies interfere with the transmission of pain messages at the spinal cord level, and help block their transmission to the brain.

Another theory is called The Endorphin Release, which suggests that electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins and enkaphalins in the body. These natural morphine-like substances block pain messages from reaching the brain, in a similar fashion to conventional drug therapy, but without the danger of dependence of other side effects."

I will be at least trying the TENS unit during my labor. If that means my labor and birth will not be "natural," so be it.

What do you think of it? Would you try it? 

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