Antenatal classes will prepare you and your partner for the birth of your baby and the early months of parenthood. While they are not compulsory, there are beneficial and something worth doing as you prepare to become parents.
Ask your midwife about antenatal classes in your local area. Often, hospitals run regular antenatal courses for the soon-to-be parents in the area. Alternatively, you can pay privately to attend antenatal classes for smaller groups of expectant parents.
Just as you took driving lessons to prepare for having a license, you can now take antenatal classes to prepare for labour, birth and parenthood. These classes make the transition to parenthood run smoothly.
Antenatal classes can vary between teachers, so it’s worth contacting your local classes to find out what topics they cover before deciding. They will usually run classes at various times to fit around different work schedules. You should aim to take antenatal classes around 8-10 weeks before your baby is due. Any earlier and you might forget what you’ve learned before the birth. Any later and there’s a risk you’ll miss the classes if your baby arrives early.
Antenatal classes will usually cover a variety of topics including:
How to stay healthy during pregnancy
What to expect during labour
What contractions feel like
Information about pain relief options
Information about birth interventions
How to be a good birth partner
Choices you can make for your baby’s care
Recovery after the birth
Emotions after the birth
How to feed your baby
How to care for your baby
Normal newborn behaviour
Where to find help
As you can see, antenatal classes cover lots of important topics so you’re bound to come away with a head full of useful facts.
Here are five reasons why it’s worth attending antenatal classes:
1. Information is power
The more you know, the more control you have over what happens. Therefore, it’s essential to understand your options regarding pain relief during labour. In the throes of labour, you won’t have the headspace to process the pros and cons of each option, so it’s worth doing this in advance.
Your antenatal teacher will explain each pain relief option, so you can choose which to use. They will go through birthing positions and ways to encourage labour to progress. By the course's end, you will understand common birth interventions and why they may be necessary. The classes will help you make informed decisions when you are in labour.
2. To educate your partner
It will also mean your partner has a better idea of your wishes so they can advocate for you when you are giving birth. Attending antenatal classes will give you and your partner the time and opportunity to discuss your birth preferences. This will mean your partner can encourage you during labour when you need some words of encouragement, and they’ll know when it’s time to up the pain relief.
Your partner may not know what to expect from childbirth (apart from a baby). For example, they may not be familiar with the sounds and sights of the labour ward. Attending antenatal classes will help them prepare for this important event. In addition, they’ll gain a better understanding of their role during the birth.
They will learn how to support you both physically and mentally during the birth. In addition, they will be given ideas and suggestions for how they can ensure you are comfortable during contractions. Birth is unlike any other life experience; the more prepared your partner is, the better this will be for you and your baby.
3. To make friends
Your antenatal class is a group of ready-made friends you can spend time with during the early months of parenthood. Classes are usually booked according to due date so that the other participants will be due around the same time as you. It helps to have people who know exactly what you’re going through. Having a group of mothers you can message at 3 am when you’re knee-deep in night feeds is invaluable. They’ll understand how you’re feeling, and you’ll be able to navigate early motherhood together. Many antenatal groups continue to meet regularly for years to come and enjoy watching their children grow alongside each other.
They may not turn out to be friends for life, and you may not have much in common other than similar aged babies, but these women can be a lifeline for you in the early days. Becoming a mother for the first time can be daunting, and being surrounded by women in the same boat as you can help. Don’t underestimate the importance of an understanding ear and a good cup of coffee.
4. To focus on the birth
Finding time to focus on the birth can be difficult; you have so much to do. You’re busy at work, choosing paint colours for the nursery, and trying to ensure you have the best pushchair you can find. As a result, antenatal classes can feel like yet another job to add to your to-do list, and you be hesitant to commit to the classes.
It will prove worthwhile, however, because not only will the classes arm you with information to improve your birth experience, but they will also force you to focus on the birth together. Without the classes, your partner may pay little attention to the upcoming birth.
Preparing for the birth together will help you work together on the day. For example, if he knows you like the idea of massages to ease contraction pain, he can get to work learning how to give good massages. He can pack some battery-powered fairy lights in his birth bag if he knows you want a dimly lit room. Antenatal classes will provide you with the opportunity to discuss things you may never otherwise have talked about.
5. To learn more about life with a baby
If this is your first baby, you may not know what to expect from life with a baby. Antenatal classes will help prepare you for this next stage of your life. They’ll teach you about normal newborn behaviours and how to care for your baby. For example, you’ll learn how to change a nappy, what to expect from breastfeeding and how long your baby may sleep at a time.
All this information will be helpful when you are looking after your newborn. One day, you’ll be lying awake wondering why your baby is fussing, and then you’ll remember that your antenatal teacher warned you that this might happen and what to do about it. Just like with birth, the more information you have, the better prepared you will be to face life with a baby.