All about antenatal classes
At this stage of your pregnancy you’ll need to start thinking about booking into an antenatal class. Most classes take place around weeks 30 to 32 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if you are expecting twins or a multiple birth. The classes are designed to give parents some insight into what may happen during labour and after giving birth to your baby.
Many parents-to-be also find these classes are a great opportunity to meet others at the same stage who also want information and guidance. It can also be a time when many pregnant women and parents-to-be will make great and enduring friendships. These friendships often continue after the babies are born and many find that even their babies will become friends as they grow and become children.
Finding an antenatal class for you
There will be an option available for all pregnant women; in all situations, with a whole host of classes being offered to women with partners, single mothers, teenagers or women whose first language is not English.
NHS antenatal classes (free)
In the UK you can attend classes run by NHS midwives. Generally, there will be no fee to pay. These often take place in hospitals but some are held in local children’s centres. The groups are usually large but they will be informative. You may even get a tour of relevant areas of the hospital to familiarise you with the building and some of the staff there.
Do ask your midwife about what classes are offered in your area. You will be strongly advised to get yourself booked into an antenatal class early. There is always high demand and the courses are very popular, particularly with first time mums.
Private antenatal classes (paying)
If you prefer to attend a more participatory class, involving a smaller group, you will need to do so privately. There are three organisations offering these courses. The most well-known is the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), but you could also try The Daisy Foundation or Parentskool, both of which offer courses around the UK.
If you decide to take a non-NHS antenatal class in your area, always make sure it is run by properly trained staff.
What happens at an antenatal class
Usually, there are a series of classes to attend over the weeks leading up to your baby’s birth. These sessions will cover different topics, generally focused on the later stages of pregnancy, labour and also some discussion on preparations for looking after a newborn at home.
A course may look something like this:
- Mother – health and diet during pregnancy
- Mother – exercise; keeping active and fit
- Labour – stages and what happens
- Labour – pain relief options
- Labour – relaxation and breathing techniques
- Labour – interventions during labour
- Baby – feeding
- Baby – caring
- Mother – health after birth
Many pregnant women use the antenatal classes as the time to think about and establish thoughts on their birth plan. The classes will help to provide some clarity on your options and you may begin to form an opinion on what you hope will happen.
It is a good idea to write down your thoughts and express your wishes so that you can share it with your midwife and birth partner, in the lead up to birth and at the labour itself.
It is not compulsory to write a birth plan but if you would like to do so, you can ask your course leader if they have a template to help you make a start.
Bringing your partner to classes
Most courses will focus on mother and baby but many are also designed to be inclusive for couples. If you have a partner who wishes to go along with you it can be a great way for them to feel more involved in the pregnancy.
Your partner will also get the chance to speak with other parents-to-be to share thoughts, feelings and learn some practical advice to help you through your labour. Partners will also be offered tips and guidance on how to help with the baby when he or she is born; learning to understand what you, the mum, might be going through as you feed and care for the newborn. This can be invaluable to see how you can both be involved in caring for your baby as you settle into a routine at home.
Overall, antenatal classes offer face-to-face advice and guidance from people who know what you are about to go through – this can be especially useful for first-time parents who may be feeling anxious.