From making new friends to preparing for the birth – antenatal classes can help you prepare for parenthood.
Antenatal classes can help you navigate the sometimes confusing world of pregnancy and birth. Here we go through what you can expect to be covered in the classes and how to find one locally to you.
If you want to feel more prepared, read our comparison of NHS and private antenatal classes to help you decide which would be best for you.
What are antenatal classes?
In the second half of your pregnancy you can attend group classes along with other parents-to-be to find out more about labour, birth and how to look after a newborn. You can go to the classes by yourself, or with your birth partner.
If run by the NHS, the classes are likely to be in the hospital or a community health centre, while private classes can be held anywhere from community centres to church halls and pubs.
What will I learn in an antenatal class?
Although it varies between different providers, there are a few key themes that are usually covered in antenatal classes:
Preparing to give birth
You can expect to find out about relaxation techniques, pain relief options and the different stages of labour to help you prepare for the big day. All of this will be useful when you write your birth plan.
If you go to an NHS class, you may also get the opportunity to visit the labour ward or birth centre at your local hospital.
If you’re still making up your mind about where you’d like to give birth, use our Birth Choice tool to find the best place for you.
For some, the most important reason to sign up to a class is to meet other expectant parents who live locally. Sarah went to NCT classes during her pregnancy:
Before the course, I felt a bit anxious as I thought there’d be pressure to make friends. I didn’t realise the course would be so well-structured with group activities and a planned reunion that this was made easy.
Mums and dads-to-be attending classes often meet up for a long time after the class has finished. It can provide a reassuring social group made up of people who know what you’re experiencing.
The duration of the course, and how many people are in the class, may affect how easily you get to know the other people. Have a look at our comparison between NHS and private antenatal classes for more information.
Looking after your baby
Antenatal classes can be a good place to get that first introduction to life with a new family member. Antenatal classes will often cover feeding, sleeping and common baby health questions.
Learning about different positions for breastfeeding, how to know if your baby is latched on correctly and how to feed responsively in advance can come in really handy in the early days. Some providers, such as La Leche League, run more in-depth antenatal workshops specifically about breastfeeding.
Keeping active during pregnancy can help you feel healthy and some exercise classes are specifically designed to help you prepare for childbirth.
Prenatal yoga and pilates are popular pregnancy classes as they can help you learn to relax and stretch in a safe way. Most pregnancy yoga and pilates classes are recommended from your second trimester onwards.
It’s worth considering swimming and aquanatal classes too when you’re pregnant, as the water reduces the weight on your joints, making it easier for you to keep active.
When should I sign up to an antenatal class?
The NHS classes tend to start from about 30 to 32 weeks, but private classes such as those run by the NCT start earlier. Even if you’re quite early in your pregnancy, it’s still worth looking into booking the classes now as they do sometimes fill up quickly.
How can I find an antenatal class where I live?
Some hospitals run early pregnancy information events where local providers, from antenatal classes to hypnobirthing and baby swimming, come together. It can be worth asking if this is something that’s being arranged in your area at your booking appointment.
- Use our Birth Choice tool to help you find the right place for you to give birth.
- Discover why choosing where to give birth matters: eight ways that your decision could affect your experience of labour.
- Find out more about your maternity options by reading our article on NHS vs private health care: what are your options?