Discover the differences between NHS and NCT antenatal classes and how they help to prepare you for labour, birth and parenthood.
In most parts of the UK, the NHS runs antenatal classes for expectant parents. There are private options available too, including NCT classes, if you want a more comprehensive course in a smaller group.
We take you through what you can expect from NHS and NCT antenatal classes, and how to find one in your local area.
NHS antenatal classes
What will I learn during an NHS antenatal class?
- The NHS class will focus on health during pregnancy and labour and how to look after your baby after the birth.
- You may have the opportunity to get to know the other mums and dads-to-be in the class.
- You’ll talk about your options for where and how to give birth. Find out what pain relief options and facilities there are available at your local hospital or birth centre by searching for your local maternity unit.
- You might get a tour of the maternity unit – find out what to ask during the visit with our checklist.
Who runs the NHS antenatal classes?
- Midwives will usually run the NHS classes, and you might even meet the midwife who will look after you when it comes to giving birth.
How many NHS antenatal classes will I get?
- The NHS course can be anything from a single two-hour session to a series of classes over several weeks. Hospitals tend to arrange and fund the NHS classes themselves and so the set-up of the classes can vary between different areas. Ask your midwife what’s available where you live.
- NHS classes typically start when you’re around 30 to 32 weeks pregnant, but they may start earlier if you’re expecting twins.
- Book into the classes early in pregnancy to secure a place.
Do I have to pay for NHS antenatal classes?
- No, NHS classes are free.
How can I find an NHS antenatal class in my local area?
- If you’re receiving NHS antenatal care, your midwife will be able to tell you what classes are available where you live and what the classes will cover.
NCT antenatal classes
What will I learn during an NCT antenatal class?
- The NCT classes cover pregnancy and birth, practical baby care, baby feeding, physical and mental health and relationships and support.
- The longer NCT course (Signature) has a focus on labour and birth, and includes an optional two-hour session on breastfeeding.
- The shorter course (Essentials) is focused on caring for the baby and life as a parent.
- Because the classes typically last longer than the NHS classes, parents more often form lasting friendships. For both courses, there is a reunion session after all the babies have been born. This is important to bear in mind if the social aspect is important to you when choosing between different classes.
Sarah went to NCT classes during her pregnancy:
It gives you a peer group of people going through similar things. It arranges a reunion but our group actually started meeting up right away and we bonded well.
Who runs the NCT antenatal classes?
- The NCT’s classes aren’t run by midwives, but by people who have trained to be antenatal practitioners.
How many hours are the NCT antenatal classes?
- There are two course options: the longer ‘Signature’ course runs over several weeks and is 18 hours in total, while the shorter ‘Essentials’ course is 12 hours long and split into six sessions.
- You’ll typically start your course when you’re around 30-35 weeks pregnant, although you’re encouraged to sign up to the classes a lot sooner
Do I have to pay for NCT antenatal classes?
- Yes. The cost depends on the type of course you choose, where you live and if you’re eligible for concessions.
- The ‘Signature’ course costs from £159 for a mum-to-be and her birth partner (£266 in London). The shorter ‘Essentials’ course costs from £136 for two people (£228 in London), but £75 if the mother wants to go on her own.
- For both courses, concessions of up to 90% of the course fee are available for teenagers, students and expectant parents on certain benefits or with a low household income.
How can I find an NCT antenatal class in my local area?
Choosing private antenatal classes
Depending on where you live, there may be many different private antenatal classes to choose from, with different approaches to birth and parenthood.
- Antenatal classes for mums and dads: In addition to NCT, The Daisy Foundation runs antenatal education courses in many parts of the UK and there are also other local options, for example Bump & Baby Club in London and the South East. You can check with your midwife if they know of any classes in your area.
- Partners’ antenatal classes: In some areas there are classes specifically for partners. Some expectant parents find that very useful as they can raise questions and concerns – and bond – with other people in the same position as them.
- Birth techniques: Some private classes focus more on specific techniques to help you cope with labour, such as hypnobirthing.
- Pregnancy exercise: While you can exercise mostly as normal when you’re pregnant, many expectant parents enjoy classes that have been designed specifically with pregnant bodies in mind. Pregnancy yoga, pilates and water aerobics are some options you can look into.
- Find out more about what you will learn in antenatal classes to help you prepare for labour and parenthood.
- Discover why choosing where to give birth matters: eight reasons on how your decision could affect your labour.
- Find out more about your maternity options by reading our article on NHS vs private health care: what are your options?