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Charlotte Middleton
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Nurse, health visitor and lecturer at The University of Manchester. Proud adoptive mum to one small boy.
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Antenatal Care

How can antenatal classes help me to prepare for the birth and arrival of my baby?

Antenatal classes are a great way to prepare for your baby's birth and early parenthood, and to meet other expectant couples in your area. You'll find this network really supportive in the first few years of your baby's life.
Video Tutorial
In Short
Find a local class - then you can meet other local expectant Mums too.

Check if you are allowed to take time off work to go. Some maternity units provide weekend classes so its less disruptive if you work and therefore often easier for partners to attend.

Make sure you book in advance - some classes get fully booked quite quickly.

Antenatal classes are designed to help expectant parents prepare for the birth and parenthood, and to learn how to care for and feed their babies.

Where do I find a local antenatal class?

Find out about local (free) NHS courses by asking your GP, midwife or health visitor, or Google your local (paid) NCT or private course.

Subjects likely to be covered

It might all sound like common-sense and you may assume you know most or all of it already. However, many expectant parents find that they learn a great deal from the courses. Many baby-care skills need to be learned and are actually not as ‘instinctive’ as you might imagine. Breastfeeding is a prime example, some mums find it really easy, but it’s really important to know that lots of mums need a great deal of guidance and practice before they get the hang of it.

Good information and discussions with breastfeeding experts before the birth are vital. It will help you feel more confident and help you to know what’s normal. It will also give you an idea of where

You should also learn all the top ways of bonding with your baby. It’s not always like in the movies where there’s an instantaneous surge of love, so it’s good to know basic techniques of attaching and bonding with your baby. These can include things like interpreting your baby’s feeding cues, lots of skin to skin contact to release oxytocin, and generally attentive and sensitive parenting.

It’s also vital to know things like how to recognise common challenges so you can seek appropriate information and support before they develop further. These might include physical things like mastitis, or mental health things like post-natal depression. The more you know, the more prepared you’ll be, and the better you will probably cope. Remember too that if you feel like you might have post-natal depression, it’s a really good idea to go and chat with your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor. They’ll know what to do to help you.

General subjects will probably include:
  • Discussion on keeping you healthy and fit.
  • Learn to recognize the signs and stages of labour.
  • Learn when to call the hospital.
  • Learn about different ways of giving birth.
  • Medicinal and non-medicinal types of pain relief.
  • How breathing techniques can help in the second stage of labour.
  • Birth plans.
  • Skin to skin contact
  • Understanding the emotional journey, including recognising signs of post-natal depression.
  • Information about helpful support groups.
  • Relaxation techniques.
  • More specific topics like water births, yoga, massage etc, if you want these you may need to go to a specific course.
  • Connecting with your baby during pregnancy and thinking about life as new parents
  • More specialised courses.
  • Information about assisted delivery and induction of labour and why an instrumental delivery or c-section might be advised.

As well as general birth preparation and parenting classes there are also a variety of courses run by groups who recommend various techniques around birth. These include hypnobirthing (such as the Mongan Method) and active birthing classes (which teaches positions and breathing methods) to help you birth your baby naturally using gravity and relaxed breathing. There are also lots of antenatal yoga and pilates classes which help you to prepare physically for the birth of your baby, also acupuncture is available in some trusts.

Can I take time off work to attend?

Women have the right to take time off work to attend antenatal classes. Fathers and partners now have the right to take unpaid time off work to accompany expectant mothers to up to 2 antenatal appointments.

When should I book and start?

Book early, since classes often get booked out.

Some hospitals provide early bird classes up to 24 weeks gestation where you can see a dietician, physiotherapist, and midwife.

Classes usually start around 8-10 weeks before your baby is due, or when you are around 30-32 weeks pregnant. The latter would be parent education classes.

Some classes are just one whole day, some are evening classes over a number of weeks, some classes are held at weekends.

If you’re expecting twins, start earlier, around 24 weeks, since there’s a higher chance they’ll come early, maybe look into specialist classes for multiples.

If you’re having a first baby it’s a good idea to go, since there’s so much to learn. For a second or further baby, there are often ‘refresher’ courses available too.

Generally, the classes run at their local NHS hospitals are free of charge to all parents who intend to have their babies at that hospital.

There is a charge for private classes.

Essential Parent and the NCT

Did you know that Essential Parent video content is used by NCT teachers up and down the UK? You can watch it online too as a refresher.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.