The subjects covered in NHS antenatal classes vary slightly, but the sessions aim to cover health in pregnancy, what happens during labour, pain-relief options, newborn care, including feeding, and emotions during pregnancy, birth and postnatally.
Ideally, classes will consist of 8-10 couples, but in extreme cases there could be as many as 40 people attending a class.
When to go:
Start at 8-10 weeks before your baby’s due. “Classes can be a one-off workshop, or a course of up to six shorter sessions,” says our midwife Anne Richley.
How to book:
Your midwife or GP will be able to provide contact details.
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- They’re free.
- It’ll give you a solid all-round lowdown on birth and beyond.
- Most of the classes include a chance for you to visit the hospital where you’ll be giving birth, which is reassuring ahead of b-day.
NCT antenatal teacher, Njambi McGrath, says the topics covered include: “What happens in labour, how to cope, pain-relief options, newborn care and feeding, as well as subjects like postnatal depression and changes to a couple’s relationship after the birth.”
NCT has a choice of two antenatal courses – both are highly regarded and comprehensive:
- NCT Signature has a focus on labour and birth, and is the longer of the two options. They are normally 18 hours long, usually split into two-hourly sessions, including an optional two-hour session to give advice on breastfeeding. Then there’s a 2-hour get-together session after all the group have had their babies.
- NCT Essentials focuses on caring for the baby and life as a parent. These courses are 12 hours, including the 2-hour reunion session.
When to go:
Plan to start a course at 30-35 weeks, so there a couple of weeks between the end of your course and the birth. Do think about reserving a place much sooner as the courses are very popular and can fill quickly. Most course are booked by week 19, but you can check on the NCT websitefor latest availability.
£11.30-£19.00 per hour, for two people, depending on where you live. Discounts and concessions available for parents in receipt of benefits or on lower incomes.
- Classes are small, interactive and led by specially-trained experts.
- Claim high satisfaction rates and are a good way of getting a partner involved.
- NCT courses are famous for helping you make friends with other local parents with similar due dates.
- Offers a good overview of giving birth and how to cope after.
- Often have daytime, evening and weekend options available.
- Will connect you with your local NCT branch, with things to do and places to go after you've had your baby.
- The NCT also provides refresher courses (normally 6-14 hours) for those who’ve had a baby already, but just want a recap or to meet other mums.
These classes teach active positions for labour, with the understanding that a supported upright position is the best way to give birth. Yoga helps with this, so some classes include it. “Classes also tell you what to expect from birth and teach you skills, such as breathing and relaxation techniques, to help you manage labour with your own resources,” says Janet Balaskas, founder of Active Birth.
When to go:
In your sixth, seventh, or eighth month of pregnancy. Note that classes tend not to include babycare advice as they only cover up to one hour after the baby is born.
£175 for an Active Birth Weekend course, or £22 for a two-hour Active Birth with yoga class.
- If you decide to include yoga, this is a great way to keep fit in pregnancy too and bond with your unborn baby.
- It’ll help you feel more in control of your labour and you’ll meet like-minded mums-to-be.
- Teaches you to work with the power of labour as opposed to being fearful of it.
“Birth hypnosis classes help you to prepare psychologically for the birth and to manage pain during labour,” says Maggie Howell, founder of Natal Hypnotherapy. “You’ll learn simple self-hypnosis, relaxation and breathing techniques and focus on how to use natural birthing instincts and positive thinking to encourage a calmer birth.”
When to go:
Anytime in pregnancy for learning hypnosis as this can be practised throughout pregnancy, but 32 weeks onwards for preparing for the birth.Be aware that even though birth hypnosis can be used alongside pain relief, classes don’t usually cover other pain-relief options. Advice on babycare isn’t included either.
£95 for each workshop.
- Lots of women who’ve learnt birth hypnosis say how effective it is in giving them a calm and positive birth experience and helping them feel in control during labour.
- These classes are particularly good for mums-to-be who are scared about giving birth, as they can help relieve anxieties.
- You’ll meet other like-minded mums-to-be.
Classes for dads
These are few and far between but DaddyNatal currently offers antenatal classes just for men. Founder Dean Beaumont gives two classes split over two evenings.For new fathers, DaddyNatal also offers a separate class covering the nitty gritty of babycare, including how to hold a baby and swaddling.
When to go:
As early as possible so dads-to-be can maximise antenatal bonding.” The first meeting focuses on pregnancy and encourages a dad-to-be to discuss feelings and fears and thinking about bonding with his unborn baby,” says Dean. “The second meeting covers the birth, the role of birth partner and what to expect in the first few weeks.”
£50 for two nights. New Dads class, £7.50.
- Dads-to-be often only get to be observers in other general antenatal classes, whereas this focuses just on them so they learn practical skills for their partner’s pregnancy and birth.
- Classes are small and informal, so men feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
If you’ve the budget for it, you can pay for your own personal midwife. Companies offering this have a variety of packages, such as The Prenatal Company’s platinum package, which includes regular pregnancy check-ups, antenatal classes, hypnobirthing classes, birth planning, postnatal and breastfeeding support, plus your own personal midwife on call 24/7 for six weeks.
When to go:
From as early as the first trimester if you’re going for a full package, although antenatal classes usually take place after 32 weeks. “One-off antenatal appointments and birth plan consultations are also available,” says The Prenatal Company founder Lexie Minter.
From £150 (for a one-off session) up to £7,000.
- You have the same midwife (or a recommended partner for the hypnobirthing classes, for example).
- You have your midwife with you the whole time during the birth if you go for a full package.
“I found using a natal hypnotherapy CD alongside the classes really useful – it’s 40 minutes of relaxation, visualisation and breathing techniques and kept me calm in pregnancy.”
Rachel Malcolm, 32, from London, mum to Maya, 3 weeks
“If you’re planning to have a caesarean, some classes will suit more than others. I found the NCT classes best as they had lots on pregnancy and babycare as opposed to birth detail.”
Michala Dominey, 32, from Hampshire, mum to Ella, 5, and Robyn, 1
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