The Use of Complementary Therapies

Drugs free methods of pain relief can be used on their own or mixed and matched appropriately with drugs, for example, you could use water for a time then come out and use drugs, or use drugs as well as TENS. 

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

A small battery-powered stimulator known as an ’obstetric pulsar’ sends weak amounts of electric current to electrodes taped to your back. TENS works by stimulating your body to release its own natural painkillers called ‘endorphins’ in association with blocking the pain signals that are sent by the spinal cord to your brain. Although research has shown that women have found TENS useful, it has not been shown to be as effective in reducing the pain experienced to the degree expected. It is most effective when it is started in early labour.
Advantages - Any effect is immediate and you are in control of managing your own pain relief as, and when, you need it and to the level you require.

Disadvantages - If you want to use a TENS machine, you will need to buy or hire your own one, they are expensive to buy.  You will need to practise using the electrode pads and control box before you go into labour. When you are in labour, if a fetal heart rate monitor is applied, this may interfere with you using TENS. TENS needs to be removed if you choose to go into a bath or birthing pool.


Aromatherapy in labour uses essential oils to assist the labour, or to help relieve some of the pain by encouraging relaxation and calmness.
The one study of aromatherapy in labour showed that women found it helpful and this was linked to them needing less pain relief. However, some women might not like the smell of the oils used or they could be allergic to them with the side effects of nausea, vomiting or headache.

Hypnosis and self hypnosis

Hypnosis can help to produce a state of profound relaxation, which enables you to view your contractions more positively and replaces anxiety with calmness and confidence. However, it is not clear whether hypnosis lessens the need for drugs for pain relief in labour.
Advantages - It is quick acting and can be combined with other approaches. Once trained, you can use a self-hypnosis tape.

Disadvantages - You will need hypnotherapy training during pregnancy or to make contact with, and ensure the availability of, a trained hypnotherapist. Some women are not susceptible to hypnosis.


Acupuncture and acupressure in labour

Acupuncture involves introducing very fine needles into the skin at identified points in the body that have a direct bearing on feelings of pain. A recent study has shown that women find acupuncture relaxing and effective but other studies have given conflicting results.
Acupressure is the application of pressure over certain points on the body to achieve the same effect as acupuncture, but without the use of needles. Acupressure has not been formally evaluated.

Advantages - Acupressure can be applied by your birth companion whereas acupuncture requires the services of a qualified therapist.

Disadvantage - Some women may find the use of the acupuncture needles too invasive and when the needles are in place, this can also limit your ability to move around freely.  Acupuncture / acupressure is not available at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals. 



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