Antenatal Classes & Postnatal Classes

Author: Naomi Liddell

I wish I had this post when I was pregnant with Finn. It’s so hard to find a collated resource of all the types of classes available. Yet I would say that the classes I attended when I was pregnant with my first son were absolutely instrumental in maintaining both my physical and mental health during pregnancy and beyond. If you’re expecting, you’re in luck. And if you know someone who is, it might be worth forwarding this onto them. Over to Nicky
 
Maybe it’s my inner geek, but when I was pregnant first time round, I wanted to be as informed as possible about birth and parenting, yet found the sheer number and different types of antenatal and postnatal classes totally overwhelming, and sometimes accompanied with a hefty price tag to boot. Which ones would be useful? Would they encourage meeting other parents-to-be (something I was keen to do as I didn’t know many people in my area with kids)? Would they be value for money? And could or should my partner come too?

Having now had two children, attended probably more than my fair share of classes, and trained and set up my own antenatal business teaching hypnobirthing classes in London alongside working with other birth practitioners, I thought it may be useful to set out an overview of some of the options available. This list is not exhaustive but aims to give you a summary of the main types of classes available. 

 

Hospital Provided Antenatal Classes

Most NHS hospitals offer some form of antenatal classes, which are free to attend. They normally cover the basics of looking after and feeding a newborn, staying healthy during pregnancy and the choices available to you in labour including where to have your baby and pain relief options. They are typically offered between 30-32 weeks of pregnancy (if you’re expecting twins, they tend to be offered earlier, around 24 weeks of pregnancy). Some are tailored to women only, while many welcome birth partners or friends. There are also some specifically for single mothers, teenagers, or women whose first language is not English. The length and depth of the classes offered vary from hospital to hospital so it is definitely worth enquiring with your midwife to find out what your hospital offers. The biggest advantage of these classes is that they are free. You are also likely to meet other mums in and around your area who are at a similar stage in their pregnancy (although there is usually limited emphasis placed on meeting up after the classes by the teachers so will require someone in the class being brave enough to take the initiative and making the first move!) They are also likely to be held by a midwife who works at the hospital you are under the care of so can answer questions specific to your hospital.

 

NCT

The National Childbirth Trust are the UK’s largest provider of paid-for antenatal courses. Their two main offerings are their Signature antenatal course and their Essentials antenatal course which are basically a longer and shorter version. The main difference being the Signature course includes an optional two-hour session on breastfeeding (they do also offer a range of other courses, including Refresher courses for second-time mums). They tend to go into more depth than the NHS classes, have smaller groups and give you greater flexibility with dates. They run all over the country and you attend with other couples with due dates within a few weeks’ window. Importantly they are proactive in helping you to arrange your first meet up, which is their main selling point (and probably one of the biggest reasons many sign up). The cost of the course ranges from between about £150 – £350 depending on the course length you go for and where you live in the country. From anecdotal experience, the quality of the teaching through NCT seems to be a bit hit and miss (I lucked out with a fab teacher but a less than fab breastfeeding teacher… knitted boob in freezing church hall anyone??) but I made friends for life.

 

Hypnobirthing Classes

Hypnobirthing classes are often a complete antenatal course (so no need to attend additional classes), but also cover in detail how your body works in labour (the muscles, hormones and nervous system). They provide you with a toolkit of birth preparation techniques to help you manage labour through the use of breathing and relaxation methods which can be used wherever you give birth. Courses are often taught in small groups, which allow you the added benefit of meeting other parents-to-be, and actively involve the birth partner with specific roles and responsibilities for them. They can also be taught privately which suits some couples, particularly if they have specific fears or anxieties they wish to address. A group hypnobirthing class costs between £120 – £250 and a private class tends to costs between £200 – £400. Both include the classes, MP3s and a book. If you live in London, please do feel free to check out my classes here!

 

Dads Classes

While most antenatal classes encourage dads to attend and are often aimed at both mum and dad, there are some that are tailored specifically just to dads. So whatever type of course you are looking into, it is worth enquiring what the provisions for dad are! Hypnobirthing courses actively involve the birth partner by giving them a practical role in supporting mum which is one of the things I really like about it! In dad-only classes, they tend to cover how you can support your partner and how to prepare for life with a baby. The NHS also have a page dedicated for dads and partners Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond for Dads and Partners.

 

Breastfeeding Support

Knowing in advance where you can turn if you wish to seek support with breastfeeding can be invaluable in the early days and weeks of having a newborn. Your midwife and health visitor will be your first port of call, but it may be between these visits or when you have been discharged that you need to seek advice.

Breastfeeding drop-ins, cafes and centres are great places to go for advice and have a cup of tea and cake in a supportive environment. They are free to attend and you don’t need to make an appointment, so it is worth asking your health visitor where your local ones are. Many have Facebook pages which update their opening days and times. The Baby Cafe is one such network of free breastfeeding drop-in centres, and you can find your nearest one by entering your postcode on their website.

La Leche League offers mum-to-mum support at meet-ups by volunteers and free telephone consultations and a national helpline as well as a host of information on their website. If you would like a private lactation consultant to come and visit you at home, often with short notice but for a fee, you can search for one here

 

Postnatal Classes

There are a whole host of courses you can attend with (or without!) your baby postnatally. One of the most valuable I attended was a paediatric first aid course. There are a number of providers and course content and length varies, but you want to ensure it is offered by a reputable supplier and covers at the very least, the basics of CPR, choking, and burns (scary stuff but so important to feel confident you’d know what to do in an emergency). My husband and I attended a Red Cross Paediatric First Aid course shortly before the birth of our son four years ago, and I’m quite tempted to book in for a refresher. I also attended a weaning talk for free at my local children’s centre when my son was around 5 months old which covered the basics of both traditional and baby-led weaning and gave us a handful of baby-friendly recipes to try.

 

Children’s Centres

Children’s Centres are local council-run free areas where you and your children between ages 0 to 5 can attend groups and classes. There have been cuts to children’s services over the last decade and what is on offer does vary widely across areas, but if you are lucky to have an active children’s centre near you, they are definitely worth checking out. If you have just had a baby, your health visitor should be able to provide you with information on your local services; otherwise, it is worth having a look online at your local council’s website. Typical classes and courses may include; well-baby clinics (where you can get your baby weighed), baby massage courses, stay-and-play sessions for different ages, language development sessions, breastfeeding support and weaning workshops. Most sessions are drop-in and free, but some may require booking and a small fee (My local children’s centre is attached to a primary school and offers parent and baby and postnatal swimming classes weekly at a fraction of the cost of other swimming lessons!)

 

As you can see, there’s a wealth of information out there but it can easily appear overwhelming. Focus on what you want to gain from attending a course, research the content online and don’t be afraid to ask questions before you book, particularly if you are parting with your hard-earned money! 

I hope you find this summary useful and please do ask in the comments box below if you’ve got any questions and I’ll try and answer! I haven’t chatted about the more “fun” baby classes you can attend once you’re baby is here and you’re up for getting out and about (baby yoga, Buggy Fit, baby massage…) but let me know if that might be something you’d like in the future!

Nicky xo

{Contributors}

Guest Post by Nicky Khan from Mamacan Hypnobirthing

Header Image by Carley Buick Photography

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Naomi loves daytime baths, learning things and rock music.
(Oh and her kids. She loves them too)
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15 thoughts on “Antenatal Classes & Postnatal Classes

  1. This is incredibly timely for me having just trawled through the RMF archives for a post discussing the pros and cons to NCT classes and whether they are worth the money.
    My local hospital offers two short antenatal classes on Friday afternoons so fine if you have flexible work and two extra evenings on ‘relaxation’ and responsive feeding/parenting (which is booked up 5 months in advanced 😱)
    The short but larger classes made me look into NCT but the cost put me off and when people seemed to suggestion you are paying for friends I decided not to go for it as I happen to have 6 friends due within 4 weeks.
    I also have the Positive Birth Company digital pack for hypnobirthing which is ideal for me as there is not much available local.
    I am hoping between that and the NHS classes my inner geek will be happy and I can be informed as I can be.
    I am also on Facebook for breast feeding support, baby wearing, cloth nappy and baby groups for when the time comes! But you can just be lucky with what is offered in your area.

  2. I did NCT last year. Definitely agree it’s hit and miss on the course instructors. Ours was lovely but seemed to lack confidence and really hated if we got off track. We had a different person for the breastfeeding session who was absolutely brilliant – I was worried about it being a bit preachy about breastfeeding but she happily went through formula feeding and combi feeding as well as just what to expect in the first few weeks in how relentless it would be. Despite the rest of the course not being great when it came to anything other than a textbook birth, our group have been invaluable over the last 6 months. Perhaps we got lucky but the six of us have pulled each other through so much. It was my main reason for wanting to do NCT as we had no friends locally as new to the area so I’m very grateful it worked out that way.

    I also did a hypnobirthing course with a local woman who was fantastic. Even though I ended up with an emergency c section, the tools she taught still came in handy in those frantic moments before I was taken down to theatre. One of the girls on my NCT course did the same hypnobirthing course too and we both spoke highly of it despite having very different birth experiences.

    Our hospital did a colostrum harvesting session which was useful too although it was pretty much the same as the NCT feeding session just more condensed. Ironically most of the women there had been recommended to attend by NCT!

    1. Oh Jo I’m so pleased you found your gang with NCT. Having friends with babies the same age in those early weeks, months and years who “get it” can be so valuable. And yessss!! Absolutely hypnobirthing can and should prepare you for any birth.

  3. Just wanted to second the NCT classes for meeting a valuable group of mum and dad pals.

    In terms of actual practical info in truth, it wasn’t that great. Ours didn’t really cover non-textbook outcomes and looking back the actual birth, feeding and parenting part wasn’t that helpful compared to my experiences. BUT it was worth the money ten times over for the amazing group of mum and dad friends we made.

    I think we probably got lucky, but we’re all still in touch regularly now, over 4 years in and have supported each other through all kinds of issues.

    Having that local support in the early weeks of my first child, knowing I could send a message at 2am and get a reply, having other mums who also didn’t have a blimmin’ clue what they were doing and occasionally found it hard was a complete saviour.

    So if you don’t know many people where you are or have many other local mum friends then I’d really recommend NCT and really hope those that do it find the same sort of awesome network we did.

    In terms of support post-natally, I found my children’s centre brilliant (sadly, I know many are being shut down), particularly for breastfeeding support once we were home.

    Just on breastfeeding, I have 2 kids and both sadly were difficult experiences where I was apart from the baby for a long time after birth. I only managed to initiate breastfeeding because both times amazing midwives at the hospital supported me first with colostrum and them pumping. If you do want to try feeding or expressing yourself please don’t be shy to say to them, help I’m finding this hard.

    I was rubbish at hand expressing and basically got milked both times by lovely midwives (not very glam!) but I had to ask for the support and really I had to plainly ask them if they could physically help me do it. If I hadn’t of spoken up I don’t think I’d have managed to initiate feeding and I’m always really grateful to them for doing that, help is there but you sometimes need to push for it if it’s what you want to do. Though, obviously, fed is best whatever you wind up doing!

    Lots of love to all about to become parents. It’s the hardest but best job like everyone always says.

  4. About this time eleven years ago, I was just starting my NCT classes feeling a bit nervous about what to expect and would we like any of the other couples (and would any of them like us)! I’m happy to report that eleven years on and with our first borns on the verge of starting secondary school, the six of us girls still regularly keep in touch and even though we’re not all local anymore we try and meet up for dinner every few months. The friendships I made through NCT have been a huge part of my parenting experience.

  5. Echo all the above on NCT, our teacher was amazing although I too hear it is hit and miss, but the friends I made are invaluable. We don’t stay in touch too often now, but one goes to nursery with my eldest, another will be going to school with her, and another of the mums had her second at the same time as me so we regularly met for coffee then too, so while we don’t meet up all together very often they are great friends. I did, however, do a fabulous second baby refresher course (not NCT, another one locally) and that group of mums are quite literally the best, we meet up for dinner now and chat all the time about life and children in general.

    With respect to feeding, I did a brilliant course held for free at my hospital a few weeks before my due date. Although focused on breast feeding only, it was absolutely fantastic and the feeding support lady (I’m sure she had a more official title though!) who held it then helped me enormously when I was in hospital for 5 days having feeding issues (among other things!) with my first. All the midwives were immensely supportive but she was just fabulous at helping in a totally non-judgemental way. Which I needed, because my first was born stubborn!!! (Think clamping her mouth shut when we tried to bottle feed her expressed milk etc, even the midwives said they hadn’t met such a little monkey before!!). Ditto the wonderful health visitors at my local children’s centre, who helped me through so much. Seek out all the support you can get and most definitely ask for help, you are not alone!!! And don’t forget they have seen it all before (literally everything), so nothing you can say or do is going to shock them 🙂

    Great list of resources, and good luck to anyone about to embark on the parenthood journey!!

    1. Annie you are so right… they have def seen and heard it all before (and more!) so def ask for all the help! So lovely to hear so many people still in touch with friends they made at parenting/ baby classes all those years ago!!

  6. Not sure about the rest of the country but sadly the NHS have stopped all of their free antenatal classes in Norfolk and the information is not only available online. I’ve signed up for NCT instead and really looking forward to it!

  7. Hey, just thought I’d suggest an app called DadPad. It’s aimed at dads and gives information about feeding/holding/ changing babies etc and supporting partners. I know my husband was not keen to read books about having a baby but may have flicked through this app. Might be helpful if partners can’t make it to antenatal classes. It does request a post code and not all areas subscribe to it but thought it was worth mentioning. Xx

  8. I did NCT – my baby is now 20 months and we just spent the weekend hanging out with our NCT gang – we really have become firm friends. I looked at the hospital ones, but as someone who’s self employed so can’t pull the ‘time off for classes’ perk, I couldn’t make them work. We did the intensive weekend NCT class – 2 full weekends, as we couldn’t make the weekly classes with work commitments, and actually I think the intensity of it meant we bonded very quickly – by the Sunday evening of week 1 we were all heading to the pub together, and by the end of week 2 we were at each others’ houses!

    I’d also thoroughly recommend the churches – you don’t have to be religious but both the Salvation Army and the local church near us runs post natal support groups as well as the more traditional playgroups. They are the nicest people, and we’ve gone since birth and have never felt that they were focussed on religion (if that worries you – we’re religious so wouldn’t have minded, but my staunchly atheist pal happily comes along).

  9. In our experience it was definitely worth looking for a wider range of anti-natal classes than simply NCT. In our very nappy valley part of West London there were quite a few different options and we picked one that was cheaper than NCT and included a first aid course (which we probably would have paid for separately otherwise). I ended up finding it really useful and the friends we made there were invaluable. The best thing we did though was a hypnobirthing class as I loved it (even though I definitely didn’t just breath the baby out) but mainly it gave my partner a real role and he felt totally comfortable asking tonnes of questions that i don’t think he would have in a bigger group.

  10. We did a privately run ante-natal course, primarily because the NCT dates in our area didn’t work for us. It was absolutely invaluable and, while a bit more expensive, I definitely felt we got value for money. It was run by a team that included an incredibly experienced midwife and each session featured a different expert practitioner – such as hypnobirthing taster, session on breastfeeding, the birth,what happens post-birth (often really overlooked!) and a session on fathers. Our group have remained the best of friends – all the babies were born on the same day! – and the midwife running the course has continued to provide an invaluable support in subsequent pregnancies.

    I would 100% recommend that fathers/partners attend the breastfeeding sessions too as you don’t realise how much support you will need. Even if it’s just making sure you have a glass of water and a snack to keep you going.

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