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Charlotte Middleton
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 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.
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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.

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

Antenatal classes are designed to help expectant parents prepare for the birth, and to learn how to look after 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 advice and demonstrations from experts before the birth is vital, since after the birth you’ll probably be tired and won’t have the time or energy to have breastfeeding lessons. If you choose to bottle feed, you should know in advance how to safely sterilise bottles so your baby won’t get a tummy bug.

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 signs of trouble, so you can deal with them before they develop further. These might include physical things like mastitis, or emotional/ chemical 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 youfeel like you might have post-natal depression, it’s a really good idea to go and chat to your GP, Midwife or Health Visitor. They’ll know what to do to help you.

Doing a baby first aid course before the birth is a great idea – or looking at the Essential Parent online baby first aid course to refresh your memory!

General subjects will probably include:
  • Advice 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 e.g. forceps, ventouse.
  • Pain relief.
  • Breathing techniques (try not to be embarrassed, these can really be helpful, as strange as they sound)..
  • Birth plans.
  • Breastfeeding plans.
  • Understanding the emotional journey, including recognizing 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.
  • More specialised courses.

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.

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.

Classes usually start around 8-10 weeks before your baby is due, or when you are around 30-32 weeks pregnant.

Usually are once a week and last 6-8 weeks.

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.

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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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.