At literally the eleventh hour, I have purchased a TENS machine.
I was talking to one of the girls from NCT about hers last week and then the next day, Mr Cath reported that his work friends highly recommended getting one. So on my due date, I ordered one from Boots online and shelled out for next day courier delivery – I could probably have got it delivered to the store for free but I panicked (I’d visited my local Boots shop in person and they did have TENS machines, but it specified that they were not for women in labour. Who knew there were different kinds?)
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. How it works is that you attach sticky electrode pads to key pressure points on your back. These then send a small electrical current through your skin, which is supposed to block the pain signal travelling up your spine to your brain while simultaneously encouraging the release of endorphins (the feel-good hormone). The idea is that you use the TENS machine in early labour, as soon as the contractions start. It can also be used after the birth to assist in pain relief.
I was initially put off TENS machines for two reasons: I don’t like the idea of sending electric shocks through my body, and I’m planning to have a water birth and we all know that electricity and water don’t mix! However, call it late pregnancy desperation, but at this point I feel willing to try anything and the fact the machine has been personally recommended to us for the first time has altered my opinion somewhat. According to Mr Cath’s sources, it was most useful during the early stages of labour – before moving on to the proper drugs I suppose! As this is our first baby, I am fully expecting a 24-hour marathon, which will probably include lots of time at home gritting my teeth and moaning (we can’t all be as lucky as Elly…)
TENS machines have no effect on the baby, and are non-invasive. I suppose you could call it natural pain relief, although I have my doubts about whether the use of electricity is purely natural (but is gas and air natural? What about paracetamol?)
So where to buy these nifty little gadgets? Boots offers a rental service as well as buying, but it only costs about £15 more to keep your TENS machine forever (£46.99 as opposed to £30.98). With the next day delivery it cost me around £50 total for my machine which was actually half the price that I thought they might cost.
Boots also stock the brand MamaTENS, which costs £32.99 to rent and £69.98 to buy. As far as I can tell, the features you get are exactly the same as the Boots’ own machine, with the exception of the button cover – this is a slidey clear thing that you can put over the buttons, I guess to stop you accidentally pressing them in your excitement – which Boots has but MamaTENS doesn’t. There is also MamaTENS My Time, which is £39.98 to rent and £79.99 to buy. For this price you get a massive 140 control steps (the other two only have 15) a contraction timer and a pad alarm. Still no button cover though…
You can also buy TENS machines from Mothercare, including MamaTENS again, Elle TENS and Obi TENS, but they don’t offer next day delivery as far as I can tell so you’d need to be a bit more organised than I was. The Obi TENS one was recommended to us. These cost £44.99 and a reviewer claims that she “couldn’t feel a thing” during her labour thanks to her device.
One of Mothercare’s options – the Obi TENS
As with all things, there are some disadvantages and negative points of TENS machines. Babycentre notes that you shouldn’t use one before 37 weeks, or if you have epilepsy or a heart problem. It’s also definitely a two-person job – in order to position the pads correctly – and would rule out any possibility of massaging the back area.
Anyway, my TENS machine has now arrived and I’m impressed by how small it is and how neatly it packs away into its travel bag. In terms of actually trying the thing out, watch this space – you are supposed to practice before labour starts but I’m not sure whether we’ll have a chance to do so. There’s nothing quite like winging it on the day…!