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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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 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!