Using a TENS Unit to Stimulate Lactation

It can be a daunting process to begin inducing lactation, especially if you have never been pregnant, or it has been a long time since your last pregnancy. To get started you need to stimulate your breasts to encourage milk production. Stimulating and “expressing” needs to be done on a regular schedule to be effective. The trouble is, you don’t always have the time to stimulate your breasts for 15-20 mins. every 3-4 hours during the day. Without regular and constant stimulation your breasts will take longer to respond with milk – this is where a TENS unit can come in handy.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and is most commonly used to stimulate nerves and muscles to alleviate pain. The TENS unit is a device that produces a very low electric current that flows from one electrode to the other electrode of the same channel. Most TENS Units are either single channel (two electrodes) or they have two channels (two pairs of electrodes).

For lactation purposes, you can use a TENS unit to stimulate the nerves in your breasts. When you stimulate the nerves in and around your nipple and breast it promotes the release of prolactin, which, in turn, stimulates growth and development of the milk-producing tissues in your breasts, leading to lactation.

Using the TENS Unit

Using A TENS Unit To Stimulate Lactation - Dreams of Milk ANRTo use the TENS for stimulating your breasts, use one channel (two wires that branch from the same wire) on one breast. Each channel of a TENS unit connects to two pads. The current travels between these pads. The electrodes (pads) should be placed on each side of the nipple, about ½ inch to an inch from the areola. The wires should be marked + and – for each channel, but if they are not marked just be certain that each breast is using wires from the same channel.

The image to the right shows proper placement of the electrodes.

A WORD OF CAUTION:

  • You should never cross channels across your heart.
  • TENS units have an extremely small micro amperage current and it would be very unlikely for one to trigger an arrhythmia, but if you are wearing a pacemaker, you should not use a TENS Unit without discussing it with your doctor first.

When Should I Use a TENS?

The TENS unit is not intended to replace nursing, pumping, or manual expression of your breasts. You will still need to continue your regular schedule, it is only meant to stimulate when you are not able to.

While Inducing

For maximum benefit, turn on the TENS for 15-20 minutes every two hours. Most units now are preprogrammed to shut off automatically after 20 minutes. Prolactin is released from the pituitary in about 4-5 discrete pulses over 15 to 20 minutes with suckling. After this more release does not occur for a while so stimulating the breast for more than 15-20 minutes does not cause more Prolactin release.

After You have Milk

Once you start getting milk in the breasts, don’t use the TENS to replace your regular sessions, you must add pumping to remove it because milk staying in the alveoli is a powerful influence to turn the alveoli back off. You can also use it to supplement stimulation with pumping later when you want to pump only 2 or 3 times a day. You can also use it to stimulate during the night while you sleep to accelerate the changes.

Buying a TENS Unit

Today’s TENS units are small and discreet and can be worn under your clothing without anyone knowing that you are stimulating your breasts as you go about your daily routine! When choosing a TENS, if possible, choose one with at least 2 channels so you can apply stimulation to both breasts simultaneously.

Have you used a TENS for stimulating or supporting your lactation efforts?
Leave a comment below!

20 replies
  1. Tricia Meiers
    Tricia Meiers says:

    I used a tens unit to quickly induce lactation upon our adoption. It was so successful because I found a few mods to make the stimulation feel absolutely heavenly when applied directly on my nipples. I felt an exquisite and compelling let-down reflex almost every time I used the tens. I will be happy to supply more details.

    • Tish
      Tish says:

      Using a TENS is a great way to stimulate milk production, and to give you relief when you are unable to pump. I have used a TENS successfully for several years and I can’t say enough good things about it!

      ~Tish ~

      • Tish
        Tish says:

        Hi Virginia. There is no one ‘right’ setting for using a TENS to stimulate your breasts. To use the TENS, just select a setting that feels good to you, the important part is that you are stimulating.

        ~ Tish ~

    • Samantha
      Samantha says:

      Hello, could you please provide somewhat of a timeline as to how long you started using the unit to the time you noticed results. PLEASE REPLY ASAP 05/06/18

      • Tish
        Tish says:

        The TENS can be used every 2-3 hours, depending on if you are also suckling, or pumping. You only need to stimulate your breasts either one of these ways on a 2-3 hour schedule.

        There is no real answer to how long it takes, as every body is different, and responds to stimulation in different ways. Some people see results within a few weeks, where others may take several months.

      • Tish
        Tish says:

        You can really just set the TENS unit to whatever feels the most comfortable for you. There is no one correct setting – the important aspect to using the TENS is that there is stimulation to the breast. Pick a setting that you like/can tolerate and go with that.

  2. Samantha
    Samantha says:

    This question is for anyone who used the tens unit and had results. How long did you use the unit before you noticed results? Thank you in advance for replies. I’m currently in process of adopting and would love to nurse as I had done my 2 previous birthed children.

    • Tish
      Tish says:

      Hi Samantha. There’s no set timeline for results as everyone is different. The more often you are able to stimulate/pump your breasts the better it is though. If you are unable to pump on a 2 hour schedule, I would suggest you incorporate a TENS unit into your routine.

      Best,
      Tish

    • Tish
      Tish says:

      It’s possible that the stimulation could cause letdown. The main advantage of using the TENS even after your milk comes in is that you can use it to stimulate your breasts on a regular schedule even if you can’t suckle/pump. While it’s not ideal because it’s not removing milk, it does still provide that cue to your breasts in the form of stimulation.

  3. MilkyMomma
    MilkyMomma says:

    Hey everyone! I’ve been pumping for about 3 weeks now. I work part time so on the days I don’t work I get around 7 pumping sessions in a day; until about 11ish at night. I don’t pump during the night yet, I’ve tried a couple of times but my husband is a away for a while and I don’t see the point of waking up cranky every morning for nothing lol
    Anyways, my breasts have responded by my milk ducts swelling up (they feel like pebbles in my boobies if I don’t pump for a while) and for about the past week I’ve been getting tiny spots (I wont say drops because they don’t drop off my nipples..yet) on my nipples; one side spots clear and the other spots white. I’m not taking any drugs to help induce, although I am taking some herbs.

    I purchased a TENS unit and tried it a couple of times at work. It felt great and I can tell it was doing it’s job. I’m just so scared that it will somehow hurt my heart. (I’m a worry wart) I don’t have any heart issues but that doesn’t mean it’s still not scary. I’m hoping someone can help me get through that fear. And we all know how difficult it is to tell friends, family or even my dr. (I haven’t told anyone except for now).

    I’m also hoping someone can tell me how great it is that I’m showing some results without drugs haha I need a little motivation since this is taking so long. I knew it would and I’m in it for the long haul, I just hope there’s someone else out there like me who could help <3

    • Tish
      Tish says:

      Drops are the first step. Congratulations! Using the TENS is safe, as long as you don’t cross the wires across your body (heart) – the article talks about this. Using a TENS is a great way to stimulate when you can’t suckle and you want to maintain your schedule. While it doesn’t get milk out of your breasts, it at least gives the signal of activity 🙂

      Keep up the good work!
      ~Tish~

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