The pregnancy test was positive, you've had your first scan and life as you know it is changing, and fast! But how best to prepare for this whole new world of parenthood? Antenatal classes. But which ones will be right for you? Here's our rundown of the best of them...
What are antenatal classes?
Some loved them, some hated them, but the best way to assess their benefits is to try them out for yourself. Antenatal classes are designed to help you and your partner prepare for labour, birth and beyond. They can help you stay healthy while pregnant, tell you just what to expect during labour and birth and give you and your partner the confidence you'll need to get through those first tricky days of life with a newborn. Your doctor and midwife will both suggest you try at least 1 antenatal course and breastfeeding class to make your baby's birth easier as well as help you cope afterwards. So what's available?
- NHS-run classes tend to take place in hospitals or children's centres and are taken by NHS midwives. Ask your midwife for details of the courses available near you or visit nhs.uk.
- National Childbirth Trust classes focus on preparing you for labour and birth with elements of early parenthood information and breastfeeding tips included. For information on courses in your area visit the nct.org.uk.
- Lazy Daisy Antenatal Pregnancy Classes and Baby Classes are all inspired by movement, massage and relaxation. Visit the Lazy Daisy website for more details.
- Baby Calm classes are designed to help new parents enjoy their baby by providing support from pregnancy through to the end of their baby's first year. See the babycalming.com for more details.
Why do I need to attend an antenatal class?
There is no law that says you have to go to an antenatal class. However, many mums-to-be like you find they're useful preparation for labour and birth as well as new parenthood. Some try not just one course, but combine several. It's not just the information you get from the course itself that you'll find helpful but the friendships you might make with other parents-to-be. You'll find that many of these classes are booked in line with your due date so you'll meet women who will give birth around the same time.
Single mum or expecting twins? Course organisers of some antenatal classes are keen to help you meet others going through the same so will make sure your class is made up of similar expectant mums.
When should I attend?
Certain classes, including those run by the NHS and the NCT, are booked according to your due date so you'll meet others going through the same issues you are, at the same time. Places in classes can get booked up quickly so ask your midwife early pregnancy. NHS and NCT tend to place you in classes that run about eight to 10 weeks before your baby is due, so that'll be when you're about 30 to 32 weeks pregnant.
Which class is right for me?
NHS Antenatal Classes
How much? Free!
Contact: Speak to your midwife, GP or health visitor or visit nhs.uk
Topics covered in NHS classes are:
- Health in pregnancy, including a healthy diet
- Exercises to keep you fit and healthy during pregnancy
- What happens during labour and birth
- Coping with labour and information about different types of pain relief
- How to help yourself during labour and birth
- Relaxation techniques
- Information about different kinds of birth and interventions, such as ventouse or forceps delivery
- Caring for your baby, including feeding
- Your health after the birth
- 'Refresher classes' for those who've already had a baby
- Emotions and feelings during pregnancy, birth and after
These are informative sessions usually held by midwives so there are opportunities to have your questions answered by an expert, as well as share experiences with other parents-to-be.
Much of the information is available on the internet and a lot of the content is common sense. Also, because the sessions are free many attendees drop out after the first session so the chances to get to know other mums become limited.
Mums like you say:
'The first week loads of people came. It was all day and there was a tour of the delivery suite. After that hardly anyone came. The classes were not much use if you had done some general reading beforehand because they didn't tell me anything I didn't know already.' - Clare K
'My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage so when I was pregnant a second time I was worried I would lose that baby too. The antenatal classes I received from the NHS and the information given were so reassuring. They put me at ease as I was told what should happen during the birth and I felt safe after having a tour of the hospital and being shown where I would deliver my baby.' -Rachel P
National Childbirth Trust (NCT) Classes
How much? Course prices vary according to area and the number of teaching hours. You can pay by instalments and the organisation offers discounts for parents in receipt of benefits or on lower incomes.
Topics covered in NCT classes are:
NCT Antenatal courses are tailored to cover the information that is most relevant to each individual group but some of the general subjects include:
- Practical skills for labour, including breathing, massage and birth positions
- Your pain relief choices
- Realistic information on what happens during birth
- Early days with your baby
- Most NCT courses include a session with a qualified breastfeeding counsellor. Both parents are usually invited to the breastfeeding session. The aim of the breastfeeding session is to increase confidence, knowledge and skills in starting and maintaining breastfeeding by providing information and encouraging discussion.
You and your partner might make friends for life at NCT.
It's frustrating as classes are not run in every area throughout the UK so you might find that NHS classes are your only option. Also some women believe the NCT is anti-pain relief and bottle-feeding as the course content concentrates on natural birthing techniques and breastfeeding.
Mums (and dads) Like You Say:
'We did the two-day weekend course because it was quick and intensive and overall we thought it was worthwhile. Great for meeting people going through the same thing and we made some lovely friends. So good to have that support once the babies arrived too. It was very useful for my husband. I think we both felt better prepared for the birth after the classes. The breastfeeding class was comedy and will be etched in my brain forever.' - Laura B
'I found the two-day weekend course really useful but then I had been in denial and hadn't read anything. It gave me all the options available and pros and cons. I think it was good for Nick, my husband, so he also knew everything. It was definitely good to be able to chat to people going through similar things.' - Anne O
'The NCT course concentrated the mind and made the impending arrival feel real. It was good to meet other dads as nervous as I was.' - Matt W
'Complete waste of time in terms of learning about birth. However, we met a lot of nice people.' - Mike P
Lazy Daisy Classes
How much? Courses run in 6-weekly terms with each 120-minute class costing between £9 and £12 depending on area. Couples workshops provide a 4-hour intensive course and are priced at £75 to £100 depending on area.
Topics covered in Lazy Daisy classes are:
- Giving parents-to-be a tool kit of natural techniques, including breathing, relaxation, massage and movement, for labour and birth
- Promoting emotional and physical relaxation during pregnancy (including ligaments around the womb and the pelvic floor which aids optimum foetal positioning).
- How to help you cope with common pregnancy problems such as backache, pelvic pain, indigestion, constipation, carpal tunnel syndrome, SPD, PGP (Pubic Girdle Pain) and fluid retention
- Boosting confidence of mums-to-be and working to understand the fear-tension-pain syndrome and why adrenalin is not welcome in the birthing unit
- Key birth movements including rotations, tucks, tilts and breathing are central to the Lazy Daisy teachings
The prosLike other antenatal classes the benefits of Lazy Daisy classes seem to be mainly in meeting like-minded mums-to-be and their partners. But the real bonus for busy pregnant women is that the classes mean they're sure to spend a couple of hours out of life enjoying their pregnancy and learning how their body can cope with labour and birth. Michelle Heaton is a fan of these classes!
Falling asleep in class seems to be one of the few downsides to these birthing-focused classes and the fact that they are not available in every part of the UK currently.
Mums like you say:
'I was so scared of giving birth naturally. I was convinced I'd be be demanding an elective Caesarean and never thought that I would feel prepared for a normal delivery. When I discovered I was pregnant my mind-set changed and I wanted to be as prepared, both mentally and physically, as I could be to manage the pregnancy, labour and birth. I went on the internet to see what antenatal classes were available, and discovered these classes. Without Daisy Birthing I wouldn't have known how to remain calm and in control throughout, nor would I have been equipped with any of the techniques. I kept all my teacher's mantras in my mind throughout the labour, which meant I had a quick, easy and yes, pain-free delivery!' - Rachael H
Baby Calm classes
How much? Prices vary but you can expect to pay around £35 per couple for an antenatal workshop. Contact your local Baby Calm teacher via babycalming.com for pricing in your area.
Topics covered in Baby Calm classes are:
- Baby Touch Therapy - a unique light baby massage routine
- How to aid bonding with your new baby
- Learn ways to calm a crying baby
- Tips to soothe baby colic
- How to cope with your fussy baby
- How to survive evening cluster feeds
- How to help your baby to sleep a little more
- Why babies are only happy in your arms and how to get your arms back!
- What baby products are really worth having.
- Social activities for you and your baby
The prosWhere other courses focus on labour and birth, these classes take you beyond into the world of screaming babies and gives new parents confidence in the unknown territory of sleep deprivation, colic and fussy feeders.
These classes are not for everyone. Those who love routine and schedules should perhaps stick to their well-thumbed copy of Gina Ford.
Where to next?