Antenatal classes (sometimes called parentcraft classes) can help you to prepare for your baby’s birth and learn to look after and feed your baby. They can help you to stay healthy during pregnancy, and give you confidence and information. You can learn about the different arrangements for labour and birth, and the choices available to you. This can help you to make your own birth plan. You may also meet some of the people who will look after you during labour.
You'll be able to discuss your plans and any worries with professionals and with other parents. Classes are also a good way to make friends with other parents who are expecting babies around the same time as you. These friendships often help parents through the first few months with a baby. Classes are usually informal and fun.
Choosing an antenatal class
Think about what you hope to gain from antenatal classes so that you can find the sort of class that suits you best. Places in antenatal classes can get booked up early. It's a good idea to start making enquiries early in pregnancy so that you can secure a place in the class that you choose. You can attend more than one class. Ask your midwife, health visitor or GP, or contact the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). The NCT may charge for antenatal classes.
Speak to your community midwife if you can't go to classes. The midwife may be able to lend you a video or DVD about antenatal care, or you may be able to rent or buy one. You can see if there are any available in your local library.
What happens in antenatal classes
You might be able to attend introductory classes on baby care early in pregnancy, but most antenatal classes start around 8-10 weeks before your baby is due, when you are around 30-32 weeks pregnant. If you're expecting twins, start your classes when you're around 24 weeks pregnant because your babies are more likely to be born early. Some units offer antenatal classes for women expecting multiples – ask your midwife about this.
You and your baby could benefit from a regular routine. It's easy to join a group near you or find online support on baby routines and more. Visit the CANparent website or phone 0808 800 1102.
Classes are normally held once a week, either during the day or in the evening, for around two hours. Some classes are for pregnant women only. Others welcome partners or friends to some or all of the sessions. In some areas, there are classes for single mothers, teenagers or women whose first language is not English.
The kinds of topics covered by antenatal classes are:
Some classes cover all these topics. Others focus on certain aspects, such as exercises and relaxation, or caring for your baby.
The number of different antenatal classes available varies from place to place.
Children's Centres also support families with children under the age of five. They can provide:
- easy access to antenatal care
- health services
- parenting and family support
- drop-in sessions
- outreach services (information and advice to remote areas)
- early education and childcare
- links to training and employment opportunities
Find a Children's Centre in your area.
The NCT (formerly known as the National Childbirth Trust) runs two types of antenatal classes: NCT Signature and NCT Essentials. The groups are smaller and may cover topics in more depth than most antenatal classes, often allowing time for discussion and to practise physical skills. There is usually a fee.