Pregnancy

Antenatal classes and preparation for birth

Antenatal classes help many women prepare for birth and parenthood, especially in their first pregnancy. Midwives have details of free NHS classes in each area. The National Childbirth Trust's (NCT) network of trained antenatal teachers also provides classes; a fee is charged for these, which can be reduced in some circumstances. Some exercise and sports centre classes are aimed at pregnant women, including swimming and yoga, which may also cover breathing and positions for labour; many people we talked to had enjoyed these (See 'Resources' for further information).

An important benefit of attending classes was obtaining information about birth and making decisions about care. It was also very useful to get to know other new parents locally. One mother found her pre-natal yoga classes useful for this. She also went to NCT classes, but felt embarrassed there because she wanted an epidural while everyone else seemed to want home births and water births.

However, another woman attending both NHS and NCT classes was the only person in her groups planning a home birth. She liked the way her NCT classes focused on emotional as well as physical aspects of birth. Several people valued having time to think through their feelings and to focus on the baby.

Other women were more interested in factual, practical information. The midwife who ran one mother's classes talked about life with a small baby, as well as the birth itself. Some people would have liked more on parenthood in their classes. 

Some antenatal teachers invite past members of the class to come back with their babies and share their experiences, and people found it interesting to hear real birth stories and what life has been like since.

Convenient access to classes is important. The time of day when classes are run can be a problem, for example when they are held on a particular evening over several weeks. As an alternative to this, in some areas a whole day course is offered. This fits with some people's work schedules better, and a few people said they felt too tired in the evenings.

Money to pay for non-NHS classes is also a consideration for people on low incomes. One woman had to miss NCT classes because her wheelchair would not fit in the teacher's house.

Classes were often offered in the last few weeks of pregnancy. This meant that some people who went into labour early had not yet had classes covering useful information such as breathing and relaxation (see Interview 33 above).

Although most people felt glad they had gone to classes, some people had found them boring or a waste of time, and some decided not to go at all. Some thought they would not learn much at classes, and some were embarrassed by the idea of practising breathing and birth positions in public.

Single parents sometimes also felt awkward if they had no partner to go with. One single parent preferred to rely on her mother's experience and advice, and another preferred the support organised by her local Sure Start programme, which meant she was with people who were in the same situation as her.

Some of the learning disabled mothers we talked to, were not told about classes, or were told when they were close to their due dates (see Learning disability and pregnancy).​ Being with people you can feel comfortable with is important in choosing an antenatal class. Sometimes this might mean trying to find a class with people who have similar physical or social needs, for example classes for people expecting twins, or for those who know their baby has a health problem - although these may not be available locally. But some people just wanted to be with other pregnant women and not be singled out as different. A woman who knew her baby was likely to die shortly after birth noticed that no-one asked her if she wanted to go to antenatal classes, but she found a yoga class helpful. (See also 'Pregnancy with another condition or disability' and 'When something is wrong with the baby').

Sometimes the choice might be to be with people who share the same religious or cultural traditions and expectations. One mother appreciated a project specifically for women from South Asian backgrounds, and said she would feel better in a women-only group. Another Muslim mother mentioned the importance of being with people who were familiar with practices such as circumcision.

On the other hand, another Muslim mother went to regular NHS classes with her husband. Although on occasion they felt uncomfortable, they were glad they went.

Last reviewed May 2017.
Last updated May 2017.

 

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