Antenatal classes (sometimes called parentcraft classes) can help you to prepare for your baby’s birth and give you confidence and information.
They're usually informative and fun, and they're free on the NHS.
You can learn how to:
- look after and feed your baby
- stay healthy during pregnancy
- make a birth plan, considering the different arrangements for labour and birth and the choices available to you
You may also meet some of the people who will look after you during labour and after the birth. You'll be able to discuss your plans and any worries with professionals and other parents.
Antenatal classes are also a good way to make friends with other parents who are expecting babies around the same time as you. These friendships can help parents through the first few months with their new baby.
Choosing an antenatal class
Think about what you hope to gain from antenatal classes so 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 you can secure a place in the class that you choose. You can attend more than one class.
To find out about classes near you, ask your midwife, health visitor or GP. NHS antenatal classes are free.
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.
When to have 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.
What happens in antenatal classes
Classes are normally held once a week, either during the day or in the evening, for around 2 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:
- health in pregnancy, including a healthy diet
- exercises to keep you fit and active during pregnancy
- what happens during labour and birth
- coping with labour and information about different types of pain relief
- how to help yourself during labour and birth
- relaxation techniques
- information about different kinds of birth and interventions, such as ventouse or forceps delivery
- caring for your baby, including feeding
- your health after the birth
- "refresher classes" for those who've already had a baby
- emotions and feelings during pregnancy, birth and after
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 5. 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.
Video: what can I do during pregnancy to help make giving birth easier?
In this video, a midwife describes things women can do during pregnancy to help make giving birth easier.
Media review due: 7 February 2023
Page last reviewed: 31 January 2018
Next review due: 31 January 2021