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The best TENS machines for pain relief during labour

A TENS machine offers a drug-free, safe way to help ease labour pain. We've ranked the best TENS units currently available to buy or hire in the UK.

By Jenny Wonnacott | Last updated Sep 14, 2023


If you’re looking for natural pain relief when you’re in labour, a maternity TENS machine is a good place to start. TENS (which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machines work by delivering TENS therapy - small electrical pulses via pads you stick onto your skin, reducing the pain signals going to your brain and increasing the flow of endorphins, your body's natural painkillers. As well as labour pain, TENS machines can be used to ease muscle pain, lower back pain including sciatica, fibromyalgia and cramps.

The best TENS machine will be most effective when used during the early stages of labour - but these clever devices can also be used as pain relief for arthritis, sports injuries and period pain. Though they aren't for everyone and can take some getting used to, many Mumsnet users rate their TENS machine as highly as their best pregnancy pillow or the most effective stretch mark cream when it comes to essential items for pregnancy and beyond.

Some hospitals have TENS machines available for labouring mothers to use, but many women prefer to have their own to use at home during early labour and/or the late stages of pregnancy (though it is not recommended before the 37th week). You can also hire a TENS machine for around six weeks at a time from several retailers.

So which is the best TENS machine for purchase or hire? We've researched recommendations from the NHS as well as other health and maternity expert sites across the internet and cross-referenced with consumer reviews. We've also taken a deep-dive into the Mumsnet forums - as home to the largest online network of UK parents, our Mumsnet users are a wealth of useful information and advice for every stage of the parenting journey, from the best pregnancy test to buy on day one to the best parenting books to help navigate the years to come.

Here are the best TENS machines UK 2023.

The best TENS machines: at a glance

1. Overall best TENS machine: Babycare Elle TENS

Price on writing: £70 | Buy now from Amazon

Price to hire: £24 for seven weeks

Key specs

Available to hire: Yes | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: No

What we love

  • Easy to use and set up

  • Portable

  • Opti-Max for extra power when needed

What to know

  • Not recommended for postnatal use

What Mumsnet users say

Got me through the first 36 hours of labour until transition. Saved a lot of pain (I tried a contraction without it) and made a big difference. I would say it cuts off the ends of the contractions so the pain is less intense and shorter." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Iamnotacerealkiller)

I hired an Elle TENS. I recently used it and didn’t need to go past level 5 and it goes up to 15. I got to 6cm at home using it. It helped so much.” (Recommended by Mumsnet user Lelly0503)

"It was the regular Elle Tens, it was amazing. Hired it the week before due date, thought I'd use it for the after pains also but didn't bother, think I only had it about 3 weeks in total before posting it back. Would highly recommend for when the contractions ramp up." (Vetted by Mumsnet user TurquoiseKiss)

Our verdict

Rating: 5/5

The Babycare Elle TENS machine has been designed with mums-to-be in mind. It’s quick to set up, which is what you need when you’re preparing to give birth, and it comes with a carrying pouch and neck cord as well as a guide to drug-free pain relief.

Elle TENS also have an updated version, the Babycare Elle TENS 2 which comes with pre-set modes and a contraction timer, though many Mumsnet users preferred the original version as it has a slightly simpler feel to it. There are four electrode pads which you can wear under your maternity clothes and can adjust easily to find the best spot for pain relief. Pair with one of the best birthing balls to help ease your body through the stages of labour one contraction at a time.

If you don't want to fork out for a new TENS machine, you can hire the Elle TENS via Birth-Ease at Amazon. You get free delivery and return, and the machine comes with new batteries and electrode pads with every hire so you don’t need to worry about the batteries being flat.

2. Best value TENS machine: TensCare Perfect mamaTENS

Price on writing: From £40 | Buy now from Amazon

Price to hire: £23 for seven weeks hire

Key specs

Available to hire: Yes | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: No

What we love

  • Good value

  • Wide range of intensity levels

  • Safety feature if the pads come away from your skin

What to know

  • Pads may lose their stick

What Mumsnet users say

"Absolutely brilliant. Loaned a mama tens from Tesco, but this is going back a bit now. Still progressed through all the other pain management, but the tens was great for over a day." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Bmidreams)

Our verdict

Rating: 4/5

This lightweight tens device from TensCare is ideal if you’re looking for something that’s low cost and no frills.

Key features include simple and easy-to-use controls with three preset programmes to help you keep control at every stage. When the pain gets more intense, the integral boost button gives you extra relief. There are 60 intensity levels to let you gently increase the stimulation so that you get the right amount of relief during each stage of labour. The backlit screen means it can be used in dimmed light if you labour through the night.

If there’s a circuit connection break (if the pads come off your skin), the safety feature returns the intensity to ‘0' so there's no need to panic if you lose the cords under your dressing gown or maternity pyjamas. Large pads give you maximum coverage and the backlit screen means you can use it in the dark. Plus, it can be used post-labour to manage any lingering pain.

Read next: Newly pregnant and unsure what to do next? Check out our list of the best pregnancy books as recommended by Mumsnet users.

3. Best easy-to-use TENS machine: Babycare Obi TENS with Booster Button

Price on writing: £46 | Buy now from Amazon 

Price to hire: £26 for six weeks

Key specs

Available to hire: Yes | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: No

What we love

  • Portable

  • Large pads

  • Can be used for post-labour pain

What to know

  • Small screen

What Mumsnet users say

"I bought [the Obi TENS] from Boots, think it was around £40, it was great. Used while pregnant for back pain then through birth. Used for all 3 births along with gas and air." (Recommended by Mumsnet user Needtoemigrate)

Our verdict

Rating: 4/5

If you're looking for a simple, turn-it-up-when-it-hurts option for your TENS machine, look no further. The Obi dual channel TENS machine is one of the simplest ones we've seen, but that doesn't mean it's not versatile.

All of the settings are preset so you don’t need to worry about lots of instructions or programming before you start. The integrated booster button, as the name suggests, gives you a boost of power to use at the start of a contraction. Simply slip the pads on under your maternity leggings and you're good to go.

As with all labour TENS machines, the Obi TENS can be used with other forms of pain relief such as gas and air and also works well with hypnobirthing techniques (for more info there, check out our guide to the best hypnobirthing books).

The machine has four large pads, and is easy to carry around with a neck cord and pouch. It can also be used for post-labour pain.

4. Best TENS machine for timing contractions: Elle TENS 2

Price on writing: £80 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Available to hire: Not specified | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: Yes

What we love

  • Multi-functional

  • Contraction timer

  • Four programmes

What to know

  • Pricey

What Mumsnet users say

"I hired one and so glad I did as it really helped to ease my contractions." (Advice from Mumsnet user husbandcallsmepickle)

"Definitely get one, it was a huge pain relief during the contractions, both at home and during labour along with gas and air." (Brand type tried and tested by Mumsnet user UnCoffreDor)

Our verdict

Rating: 4/5

A more updated version of our top-ranking product from Elle TENS, this model comes with the added feature of a contraction timer so you can work out what stage of labour you're in.

Although it features a few more buttons and options than the simpler models, the Elle TENS 2 is still easy to use, featuring four programmes and the ever-useful boost button for that extra burst of pain relief.

It features large electrodes and a carry pouch so you can move about easily with it on.

Related: Trying for a baby and unsure when the best time is for chances of conception? We've got you covered with our buyers' guide to the best ovulation tests right here.

5. Best TENS machine available on the high street: Boots TENS Maternity Unit

Price on writing: £46 | Buy now from Boots

Key specs

Available to hire: Not specified - enquire in store | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: No

What we love

  • Simple design

  • Inexpensive option

  • Includes storage pouch

What to know

  • Not as many features as other units

What Mumsnet users say

"I used this one, loved my TENs in labour, would definitely recommend this." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user MrsFrankCastle)

"[Another vote] for the Boots one, I used it during early labour and continued with it at the birthing centre too. The batteries lasted well, it definitely helped and was nice and portable. The pads are fairly cheap to replace as well so could use it again or sell it on afterwards." (Tried and tested by Mumsnet user Roxyxoxo)

Our verdict

Rating: 3/5

Another simple, easy-to-use TENS machine with the added benefit that you can pick it up at the same time as your prenatal vitamins, this option from Boots promises effective pain relief for early labour without any faff or confusion. Simply place the electrode pads on your back and switch on, using the boost button to turn up the pain relief as and when your contractions hit.

At the time of writing it is unclear whether Boots still offer the TENS Maternity Unit to hire, so it may well be worth checking in your local outlet.

Related: Pregnancy can come with all sorts of unpleasant side-effects, from acne to piles. Fear not, we've got you covered with our guides to the best haemorrhoid cream and top skincare for pregnancy products as recommended by Mumsnet users who've been there.

6. Best TENS machine with postnatal features: Elle TENS Plus 3-in-1

Price on writing: £100 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Available to hire: Not specified | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: Yes

What we love

  • Multi-functional and can be used during and after labour

  • Contraction timer

  • Five power levels

What to know

  • More expensive than most of the other machines we recommend

What Mumsnet users say

"I recently hired the most expensive [Elle TENS] model. Thought the contraction timer was really useful. No idea how it compared to the cheaper one or whether it'd be worth it if buying new, but the hire cost was 100% money well spent in my opinion." (Recommended by Mumsnet user Subordinateclause)

Our verdict

Rating: 3/5

Another entry for popular TENS machine brand Elle, this 3-in-1 machine is the ultimate maternity TENS machine for labour and beyond. It has all the usual features of a TENS machine, as well as a contraction timer to help you know what stage of labour you’re in.

Although some Mumsnet users didn't want the extra faff of timing contractions, others found it a really useful feature. The machine can also be used for general pain relief after birth and also features a pelvic floor toner feature which can be as effective as one of the best pelvic floor trainers in terms of kegel exercises post-birth.

The two preset modes make it easy to use and the boost button helps you to manage particularly painful contractions.

Related: Looking for the perfect gift for a new mum and/or her new baby? Choose one which has been recommended by members of the largest parenting forum in the UK with our guides to the best baby gifts and the top-ranking gifts for new mums.

7. Best award-winning TENS machine: TensCare Perfect Mama+

Price on writing: £50 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Available to hire: Not specified | Boost button: Yes | Contraction timer: Yes

What we love

  • A lot of uses for the price

  • Labour log and contraction timer

  • Breast electrodes to help start lactation

  • Safety feature which returns intensity to 0 if an electrode comes away from the skin

What to know

  • Some reviewers think its lightweight design makes it feel less durable

What Mumsnet users say

I loved my TENS machine. It really helped with labour until I got into the birth pool. I would definitely use it again.” (Advice from Mumsnet user Odile13)

Our verdict

Rating: 4/5

The TensCare Perfect Mama+ is an award-winning TENS machine with three programmes for differing levels of pain control, as well as a boost button for extra help during contractions. A labour log and contraction timer helps you to measure the length and time between contractions.

Like other handy pain-relief items such as the pregnancy support belt, this TENS machine has been made with mums-to-be in mind and features an open circuit detection function for added peace of mind.

The Perfect Mama+ can be used after childbirth to combat any pain and it also comes with breast electrodes which can help to initiate lactation. It offers a lot for the price and it’s easy to see why it has been rated highly by many parents.

Read next: Pregnant and looking to update your wardrobe to accommodate your growing bump? Discover the best maternity jeans and top-ranking maternity bras according to Mumsnet users.

8. Best analogue TENS machine: TPN 200 TENS Machine Plus

Price on writing: £29.48 | Buy now from Amazon

Key specs

Available to hire: Not specified | Boost button: No | Contraction timer: No

What we love

  • Simple analogue design

  • No complicated display or buttons

  • Comes with a belt clip

What to know

  • Some reviewers say it's not as powerful as newer models

What Mumsnet users say

"[My] TENS machine got me through all a straightforward labour with a gas and air for crowning. It makes a massive difference and is brilliant for lack of side effects." (Advice from Mumsnet user HalloumiSalad)

Our verdict

Rating: 3/5

It may be a little old-school compared to some of the bells-and-whistles options on our list of the best TENS machines, but at just £28 and with plenty of five star reviews, the TPN 200 TENS Machine is a worthy option. Featuring simple analogue technology, it can be easily controlled using dials rather than buttons, ideal if you want an easy, faff-free system.

There are three modes - modulation, constant and burst - for pain relief and this machine also comes with a belt clip for convenience - great if you find yourself pacing during labour.

What is a TENS machine?

A TENS machine is a popular method of drug-free pain relief and is usually most effective during the early stages of labour. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation as the machine gives you safe amounts of electric signals to treat pain through pads that stick to your back. The current stimulates your body to produce more endorphins, which are natural painkillers. The more endorphins produced, the less pain you feel.

To find out more about how TENS work in general, the NHS has a useful guide about using a TENS machine during labour. You should make sure the machine you’ve chosen is designed for maternity and we strongly recommend talking to your midwife or healthcare provider before using one.

Are TENS machines any good for labour?

A TENS machine is a popular choice for the early stages of labour and some find using it with gas and air is enough to cope with contractions. You decide what level of current you need so you’re in complete control.

A survey carried out by Which? found that seven out of 10 women said using a machine relieved labour pain. Mumsnet users also recommend that, if possible, you try a machine before you decide which one to buy or borrow, but this shouldn’t be before the 37th week of pregnancy. Not all machines suit everyone so having a go and getting the settings correctly adjusted before you need it is the best way to ensure it’ll work for you when you’re actually in labour.

What are the disadvantages of TENS during labour?

If you don't start using a TENS machine right at the beginning of labour, it might not be quite so effective for pain relief. You also can't use it in water if you're planning on a water birth, or using a bath for pain relief. Some women don't like the sensation of a TENS machine, while others don't find it as effective for pain relief as others do.

Are TENS machines worth it?

It really depends - some swear by their TENS machine and say that it helps tremendously during labour. Others don't find they make enough meaningful difference to labour pain to be worth it.

How does a TENS machine work?

Maternity TENS machines have four large pads which stick to your back to provide targeted pain relief through small electrical impulses. Most machines have preset programmes so you don’t need to spend much time setting them up.

What to look for when buying a TENS unit?

Some TENS machines are just for providing pain relief during the late stages of pregnancy and early labour. Others can be used after labour too for residual pain and some machines come with attachments which can provide targeted postnatal care to help with things like pelvic floor strengthening.

The main things to look out for are:

  • Built-in modes for different levels of pain relief

  • A boost button which can be used during contractions

  • Easy-to-use controls and a simple display

  • Portability - some machines also come with a carry pouch

  • Whether the TENS machine can be used both during and after labour

You should also check that it’s an approved maternity machine. If you can, try one out before you decide which model is best for you.

How often should I use a TENS machine?

The beauty of TENS machines is that you control the amount and frequency of the pain relief so you can use it as much or as little as you need to during labour.

Can a TENS machine be harmful?

No, there are no known side effects of using a maternity TENS machine during labour, but you shouldn’t use one until at least the 37th week of pregnancy. This is because of the unknown effects it could have on a developing foetus, as well as an increased risk of inducing labour.

How much does a good TENS unit cost?

You can pick up a good TENS machine for less than £40. Or if you’re wanting one that will help during the first few months after labour, you can spend up to £100.

Your midwife will be able to tell you whether the labour ward has TENS machines you can use if you are having a hospital birth. The disadvantage of using the hospital one is that you won’t have tried it first and will only be able to use it in the hospital. However, your midwife may be able to tell you if there are any local lending facilities where you can go along and try one out first.

If you don’t want to buy one, you can hire machines for six or seven weeks. The advantage of this is that it’s lower in cost (usually around £30) and there’s normally free delivery and collection of the unit included. It can then be used by someone else once you’ve finished with it.

Which is the best brand for a TENS machine?

The Babycare TENS Elle offers a lot for the price and is the best TENS machine as recommended by mums. It gives you help with pain during and after labour and the breast pads can help give you a boost with lactation too. The contraction timer and log help you keep in control and know how things are progressing.

How we chose our recommendations

The majority of our recommendations came from parents on the Mumsnet forums. We also visited health sites, including the NHS, to check safety, and consulted consumer review sites to further round out our research.

Here’s what some Mumsnet users had to say about using TENS machines during labour:

I used it during early labour and continued with it at the birthing centre too. The batteries lasted well, it definitely helped and was nice and portable. The pads are fairly cheap to replace as well so could use it again or sell it on afterwards.” - Roxyxoxo

I used one. It was amazing. Used it for my second and it helped me so much. Had no pain relief but that for my second and only a bit of gas and air at the end with my third. I would highly recommend using one!” - febel

Here are the best TENS machines for labour.

About the author

Mum-of-three Jenny Wonnacott is a Content Editor for Mumsnet, specialising in writing, editing and optimising pregnancy care and child play content.

Before joining the content team at Mumsnet, Jenny worked as a journalist for newspapers, radio, TV and b2b trades magazines for over a decade. She is also a bestselling sci-fi author (writing as J M Briscoe) and parenting blogger.

As a parent of three primary school-aged children, Jenny is passionate about making Mumsetters' lives easier through rigorous research of all items recommended in buyers' guides such as these, as well as product reviews and expert advice on all things pregnancy and child play related.

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