Antenatal classes are a great way to prepare for the birth of your baby and they’ll also give you some tips on how to look after your new baby. And they’re sometimes a good way to meet other expectant families in your area. Friends made at antenatal classes often meet each other through the first few months with a new baby and are often a source of support for each other.
What happens in antenatal classes?
The topics covered in antenatal, or parentcraft, classes might include:
- what happens in labour
- coping with labour, including different kinds of pain relief
- exercising after pregnancy
- your feelings about the birth
- your feelings about being a new mum or dad
- caring for your baby
- feeding your baby.
In the classes you can find out about the different options for labour and delivery so you can feel confident about making your own birth plan.
You’ll be able to talk about your plans and any concerns you have with health professionals and other parents-to-be who are expecting babies around the same time as you.
There may also be time to talk to healthcare professionals or your NCT class leader and ask questions on a one-to-one basis during any breaks in the sessions.
If you have any particular concerns or worries about your pregnancy you may find it helpful to tell the course leader either before or at your first class so they can find ways to support you.
How can I find antenatal classes near me?
Ask your midwife, health visitor or GP about NHS classes locally, or find a National Childbirth Trust (NCT) course near you.
NHS antenatal classes are free of charge but the NCT may charge a fee. It's fine to go to more than one class if you want to.
NCT also co-ordinates meet-ups between mums in local areas. Even if you don’t go to their antenatal classes, this may be a good option for linking up with new parents near you.
There are other service providers that run antenatal classes. The NHS has a useful tool to help you find classes in your area.
When should I go to antenatal classes?
Most antenatal classes start around 8-10 weeks before your baby is due, when you are around 30-32 weeks pregnant.
Antenatal classes can get booked up quickly so it’s a good idea to ask about them early on. That way, you’ll make sure you get a place in the class you want.
What if I can't get to antenatal classes?
Don’t worry! Although they are very helpful, there are other ways to find the information and support you need. Talk to your community midwife if you are not able to go to classes. The midwife might lend you a DVD about antenatal care, or may be able to recommend one you can rent or buy. Read more about labour and birth.
You could also consider joining one of the online forums, such as www.babycentre.co.uk or www.mumsnet.com. These give you the chance to chat to other pregnant women and new mums and dads. BabyCentre also runs free online antenatal classes, so you can learn about labour and birth in your own time.
Do I need antenatal classes if I've already had a baby?
Antenatal classes are not just for first-time mums-to-be. If you’re having another baby, you may benefit from going again. Classes can be especially useful if you plan to give birth differently this time – if you had to have a caesarean the first time, for example. Classes may also be helpful if there is a big gap between your pregnancies. NCT also offers refresher courses for people who are already parents, so you may prefer to opt for one of these.
After your baby is born: parenting classes
As well as antenatal classes that you attend during your pregnancy, there are also classes aimed at new parents.
Depending on where you live, your local authority or health trust might offer parent education classes. Some of these may be free, but others will charge a fee.
These classes are usually for anyone who is in a parenting role, so they are suitable for mums, dads, grandparents, step-parents and carers. Some are just for new parents. You can ask about classes for parents of babies at your local Sure Start Children’s Centre or ask your midwife or health visitor what’s available in your area. You can also get advice and search for parenting classes at Parenting UK.
The NCT also offers courses that help you settle into being a parent. You can do these courses online or in face-to-face sessions. Like local authority courses and health trust classes, they’re aimed at anyone who is parenting a baby or child.