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TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and is a small electrical device that reduces pain signals sent to the brain. In addition to being used in labor, the device can also be used at the end of pregnancy (after 36 weeks) if you have a backache or uncomfortable Braxton Hicks' contractions.
The battery-operated TENS machine has thin wires that are connected to four electrodes, or sticky pads, which are taped to the lower back. The machine is thought to work by sending electrical impulses from the machine along nerve roots to the pain pathways in the brain, thereby blocking pain impulses. It's also thought to stimulate the brain to produce "feel good" encephalins and endorphins, which can modulate the pain.
TENS is most effective in early labor, particularly for lower back pain, and it is therefore important to have the device available at the beginning of labor. It's therefore worth finding out if your hospital has TENS machines or whether you need to rent one in advance. You can hold the device or have it near you in labor and can increase the strength of the electrical impulse with a button as your contractions get stronger.
There are several advantages to TENS. It has few side effects; it allows you to remain active; and it can be used in combination with other types of pain relief. The disadvantages are that there hasn't been much research done about its safety for the baby, so a theoretical risk exists, and it is generally effective with just mild to moderate pain; the sticky pads mean that a back massage is not possible; and it isn't possible to labor in water or have an epidural inserted while using the device.
Many women find being in warm water during labor very soothing and an excellent way to cope with labor pain. The warmth of the water soothes muscles, promoting relaxation, and being in water aids buoyancy, which can help relieve the pressure on your pelvis. Over the last decade or so, this natural method has become more available for women and many hospitals and birth centers provide bathtubs. Whether or not you can actually deliver your baby in the water will depend on the hospital's policy and whether there are any doctors or midwives trained in water births. You can also purchase or rent a birthing pool.
Self-hypnosis, using visualization and breathing techniques to induce a state of deep relaxation and banish fear, is an increasingly popular means of dealing with labor, and is referred to as "HypnoBirthing." This is based on the "fear-tension-pain" syndrome of childbirth first described by the English obstetrician Grantly Dick-Read (see Birth ideologies), who believed that fear prevents the release of the "feel good hormones," endorphins and encephalins. He maintained that when fear is eliminated, most women can give birth naturally. With HypnoBirthing, you are fully aware of what is happening around you, but may feel as though you're daydreaming or drifting off to sleep. You and your birth partner can attend HypnoBirthing classes anytime during pregnancy to learn the techniques before labor. To find a class in your area, visit hypnobirthing.com/findapract.htm.
Excerpted from Pregnancy Day by Day.
Copyright © 2008 Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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