Although all pregnancies and childbirths differ, antenatal classes can help prepare you for your baby's birth, as well as offer the chance to meet other prospective parents. This article also appears on www.bbc.co.uk/parenting/having_a_baby
Topics covered in your antenatal class may include:
Most parents attend at least some antenatal classes. You are entitled to time off work in order to attend. Some employers will ask to see a note from your midwife or doctor recommending you go and confirming your attendance.
There are different types of class and you need to ask your midwife what is available in your area. Some are for allcomers; others are aimed at particular groups, such as teen mums, or women from specific ethnic groups. Some expect both partners to be there; others are for mums only; some welcome mums with same sex partners, or with their own mothers or a supportive friend as a companion, rather than the baby's father.
There is usually a charge for private classes, though this may be waived in some cases.
The biggest UK network of private antenatal classes is the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Other private groups include Active Birth classes, which specialise in water births and yoga during pregnancy, and classes run by independent midwives.
A typical antenatal class, whether health service or private, usually follows some sort of course over six, seven or eight sessions, in the last few months of pregnancy. You go to a particular course according to your due date, so other class members are due more or less the same time as you.
In some areas, you might find 'labour and birth' weekends or days, where you attend for one or two longish sessions. Both private classes and health service classes in your area may have these formats " you have to ask and see what's available. Some hospitals offer special one-day breastfeeding 'workshops'. In some, you might have one class that is specifically devoted to a labour ward visit, so you can see where you are likely to give birth.
The classic idea of an antenatal class is of a group of women lying on mats on the floor, all breathing in unison while the instructor tells them how to do it. The idea here is you're supposed to use the same method as a way of coping with pain in labour.
In fact, while relaxation as a form of stress relief is often taught in all types of classes, rigid breathing 'methods' aren't seen very often these days. Instead, in the best classes, you'll be encouraged to be fit and to know what your choices in labour are, to feel confident about different positions in labour, different ways of relieving pain like massage or water, as well as about drugs to relieve pain.
Antenatal classes can be a good way to meet other people and to share support. Your partner can learn what to expect as a birth companion, and to share in the discussions about caring for the baby, and adjusting to life as a new parent. After all, dads have a very important role to play in the birth, as well as the after-care of mum and baby. So if your partner is willing, there's a lot on offer to share.
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