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Labor pain can be extremely intense – no news there. Most of us have grown up hearing stories of our mothers telling us how painful it was to give birth to us. But we can’t really know what it feels like until we actually give birth ourselves. Or can we?
If you are considering having a baby but are too scared of the pain of childbirth, and you want to give it a try before you actually get pregnant, you can use a labor pain simulator (also called a TENS and EMS machine) to get a taste of what labor contractions actually feel like.
The same goes for guys or soon-to-be dads that want to have an insight into childbirth. Particularly if they don’t believe that labor can be really painful, this might change their mind so they can truly understand what their partner is going through when delivering their baby.
By the way, I feel like I should share something with you before you keep on reading: childbirth doesn’t HAVE to be that painful. There are lots of techniques that moms-to-be can learn to ease the pain of labor if not eliminate it at all. If you are curious to find out more about this, I strongly encourage you to read the following articles:
- How to Give Birth Naturally without Pain (17 Tips from a Mom who did it!)
- 23 Tips for a Birth without Epidural (Yes, you can do it!)
- Hypnobirthing 101: the Hypnobirthing Basics for a Positive Birth Experience
What is a Labor Pain Simulator?
A labor pain simulator is basically what’s called a TENS or EMS machine (or a combination of both). Both TENS and EMS machines deliver low voltage electrical impulses to stimulate nerves, which can be used to simulate contractions. However, their function differs slightly.
A TENS unit’s function is to stimulate the sensory nerve endings so that the stimulation keeps pain signal from reaching the brain. It is usually used for relieving pain that is not necessarily muscular, such as tendonitis, cancer-related pains, etc. It is also often recommended as a drug-free method of controlling pain during labor and delivery and, as such, it’s often included in hospital bag checklists for childbirth.
An EMS machine, on the other hand, causes muscles to contract rather than impacting on pain signals. This usually makes it effective for muscle building and rehabilitation as it helps to treat swelling and inflammation.
If used on a higher setting, both devices create mild discomfort to pain (depending on the tolerance of the participant). That’s why they can be used to simulate birth pain. However, an EMS machine is probably the better option as it’s actually designed to cause the muscles to contract like it happens to the uterus muscles during labor.
Are Labor Pain Simulators Safe?
Birth pain simulators are usually safe to use. That said, make sure that they have FDA clearance as a class II medical device.
Companies are not allowed to market products as medical devices unless they have FDA clearance. This makes sure that the product is well-designed and safe to use.
You should also follow the product’s recommendations. TEMS/EMS machines should not be used if you have a heart disease or if you are pregnant, for example. So, if you want to find out what birth contraction actually feel like, make sure to do it before you get those early pregnancy symptoms!
What Features should I look for in a Unit for Labor Pain Simulation?
There are a number of things to consider when purchasing an EMS or TENS unit for labor pain simulation. In particular, you should think whether you want to use the TENS unit as a pain relief device during labor as well (or for other injuries), or if you want to just buy the machine as a labor pain simulator for yourself (or for your partner!).
If you just want something to use as a labor contraction simulator, you could just look into an EMS machine. However, most units are available as a combination of both, so you could get the benefits of both for pretty much the price of one.
Here’s other things to consider.
Power / Intensity
Most EMS and TENS devices offer a range of strengths to determine the intensity of the electrical stimulation (i.e. 1 to 10, where 10 gives the most intense stimulation). However, the number of intensity levels doesn’t reflect on the overall power capacity of the device. For example, a machine that has 50 levels is not necessarily more powerful than a unit with 25 levels.
If you can and it’s provided, check for the overall power of the device (in mA) and the number of intensity levels. Ideally, for labor pain simulation, you want a higher power and number of intensity levels.
Treatment Time / Manual Adjustment
Both device types often include predefined treatment programs to offer relief to a specific part of your body. These programs run for pre-set times and automatically stop when the treatment time is complete.
Now, this is great if you are using the machine for an injury, but if you want to simulate labor contractions, you want to be able to use the machine for as long as possible, and to manually adjust the frequency of the electrical stimulation to simulate the contractions.
Usually, a machine that can run for up to 60 minutes should be enough. And you want an adjustable on or off time of at least 60 seconds (to simulate the length of the contractions and time in-between).
Number of Channels
The number of channels refers to the number of available outlets for your lead wires to be connected. Typically a single ‘lead’ or wire extending from the device will include two connections for electrodes, so a single channel device allows you to use two electrodes at a time. A dual channel allows you to use either two or four, and so on.
To simulate labor pain, you want a minimum of 2 channels to cover the whole abdominal area. However, having 4 channels will allow you to cover the back and/or vaginal area as well, depending on the intensity you want to reach.
To see where to place the electrodes, you can have a look at this video of some guys using a labor pain simulator. I found it quite funny, but interesting at the same time, as they show different ways to place the electrodes so that you can replicate it on yourself.
Battery or Rechargeable
While some units are battery-powered and usually less expensive initially, other are rechargeable and slightly pricier. However, rechargeable units will save you the cost and hassle of having to replace the batteries over time.
The way the unit is powered doesn’t really affect it’s ability to use it as a labor pain simulator or for pain relief during childbirth. However, if you intend to use the machine many times over a long term, a rechargeable device is probably the best investment.
Size and Weight
This can be quite an important feature, particularly if you intend to use the TENS machine during labor. If that is the case, you definitely want a unit that’s light and portable, so that you can take it with you when moving around while in labor (another of my best tips to feel less pain during birth).
Best Labor Pain Simulators
Without further ado, here’s a list of the best labor pain simulator for guys or for moms-to-be who want to get ready for childbirth. In compiling this list, I have looked at all of the features listed above and price for affordability.
Note that all machines listed below are FDA approved and work as both TENS and EMS units.
- $$$$ – <$50
- $$$$ – $51-100 USD
- $$$$ – $101-200 USD
- $$$$ – >$200 USD
1) iStim EV-805
The iStim EV-805 is my number one choice for labor pain simulation for a few reasons, due to the combination of its good features and also affordable price.
First of all, this TENS / EMS unit is amongst the ones in my list that have 4 channels. This means that you have 8 electrodes that you can put on your abdomen or your back to simulate contractions (though the machine comes with 24 electrodes of different sizes) and the intensity of each channel can be controlled separately.
It is also quite a powerful machine with an intensity of up to 100 mA and 99 intensity levels. This means that you can slowly build up the intensity as you get closer to simulating baby’s delivery.
The machine comes with 5 TENS modes, 3 EMS modes and 24 preset programs, and it can run for up to 60 minutes. However, you probably want to manually adjust the setting if you are trying to simulate labor.
Overall, it’s a great and affordable TENS / EMS unit that would work very well both as a labor pain simulator, and a pain relief TENS unit for when you are actually giving birth. The unit is very compact so you can take it around with you, and with a rechargeable battery that lasts a long time.
The only downside is that it might bit a little bit too complicated if you are not very tech savvy and you want to adjust the settings manually, as the instructions provided in the manual are not the best. But there’s a few videos online that you can watch to understand it better.
•On Time: adjustable, 2~90 seconds , 1 Sec./ step
•Off Time: adjustable, 2~90 seconds , 1 Sec./ step
The iReliev TENS / EMS unit is one of the cheapest units I have on the list and, while it can be a great option if you are on a budget, it’s not as good as other labor pain simulators. This is mainly because it only has 2 channels (with up to 4 pads) and an intensity that goes up to only 80 mA (with 25 levels). This might be enough if you want to get a taste of labor pain, but not enough to simulate the intensity of a whole labor experience.
The machine has 14 preset programs or it can be adjusted manually. The great thing is the the instruction manual provided is one of the best for TENS / EMS units, so should be easy for anyone to use.
It is nice and compact, it works with 3 AAA batteries and it can run for up to 60 minutes.
|❌Not very powerful|
3) Compex Sport Elite 2.0
The Compex Sport Elite 2.0 is the most expensive ENS / EMS machine here and, while it may be too much for what you are looking for, this is one of the strongest machines I could find, with an intensity of up to 120 mA (that many users can’t seem to handle).
The unit comes with 10 pre-set programs that last up to 20-30 minutes. However, they can be customized however you want. It also has 4 separate channels and each channel can be programmed separately.
The only area where they can improve is the documentation on electrode placement, all they provide is a booklet with few electrode placement, whereas this device can be used in so many different ways. Fortunately, there are many YouTube videos online that can help with this.
4) TENS 7000
This TENS / EMS machine is anther great choice if you are looking for something both efficient and affordable. The unit is just under $40 but it comes with an intensity of up to 100 mA (with increments of 10 mA) and 2 channels that can be controlled independently. It also runs for up to 60 minutes.
Looking at the reviews though, it looks like in a few cases the unit died within a few weeks / months, so maybe that’s the risk you face with the low price. That said, if you only want to use it for a little while as a labor pain simulator, it will do the trick!
I also like the fact that it comes with a hard protective case to safely store the machine in.
|✅Very affordable||❌Shorter lifespan|
5) Quad Stim Plus Combo Unit
Finally, the Quad Stim Plus Combo Unit is another great option if you are looking for something both powerful (intensity up to 100 mA) and with a reasonable price range. It is actually very similar to the iStim EV-805: the main difference being this one requires AA batteries instead of having rechargeable ones.
The device has 4 controllable and independent channels, plus 24 pre-set modes. However, like for the other machines, you can manually set the machine to meet your needs as a labor contraction simulator.
- On Time: adjustable, 2~90 seconds, 1 Sec./Step
- Off Time: adjustable, 0~90 seconds, 1 Sec./Step
|❌Instructions not very clear|
How to Simulate Labor Pains with a TENS Unit
Whether you buy a TENS or an EMS unit (or a combination of both), when it comes down to simulating labor pain, you need to think of how long your pretend labor is going to last, and how frequent you are going to have your pretend contractions. Of course labor is not the same for every woman, so you can test different length and different scenarios.
Here’s an example of how you could simulate labor with a TENS / EMS unit that has 10 intensity levels and labor lasting 14 hours.
- Hour’s 1-2: TENS set to 2-3 and contractions lasting 40 to 60 seconds, occurring every 5 minutes
- Hour’s 3-4: TENS set to 4-5 and contractions still lasting 40 to 60 seconds, occurring every 5 minutes
- Hour’s 5-6: TENS set to 6 and contractions still lasting 40 to 60 seconds, occurring every 5 minutes
- Hour’s 7-8: TENS set to 7 and contractions still lasting 40 to 60 seconds, occurring every 5 minutes
- Hour’s 9-10: TENS set to 8 and contractions still lasting 40 to 60 seconds, occurring every 5 minutes
- Hour’s 11-12: TENS set to 9 and contractions lasting 45-50 seconds, occurring every 4 minutes
- Hour’s 13-14: TENS set to 10 or highest setting and contractions lasting 60 seconds, occurring every 2-1/2 minutes
Best Labor Pain Simulators: Final Thoughts
As you can see, simulating labor pain is totally doable with one of these TENS / EMS units. And the great thins is, you can keep using the machine as a pain relief solution during actual labor.
All options listed above are good options, with the iReliev TENS / EMS unit being the least powerful (and cheapest) unit, and the Compex Sport Elite 2.0 being the most powerful (and most expensive) one. I personally would go with one of the machines in the middle price range and an intensity that can go up to 100 mA. Even better if it has 4 channels.
If you do end up using one of the labor pain simulators above, make sure to take a video and share your experience here!! I look forward to hearing how your experience went!
For more tips and information on how to get through labor:
- How to Give Birth Naturally without Pain (17 Tips from a Mom who did it!)
- 23 Tips for a Birth without Epidural (Yes, you can do it!)
- How to Achieve a Confident Birth
- 20 of the Best Online Birthing Classes (to prepare for and overcome your fears of birth)
- Perineal Massage during Pregnancy: increasing your chances of an Easier Labor
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