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NHS vs NCT antenatal classes

Antenatal classes can help you prepare for birth and parenthood. Discover the differences between free NHS classes and private antenatal groups plus how to find courses in your local area.

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What are antenatal classes?

In most parts of the UK, the NHS runs antenatal classes for expectant parents to help you navigate the often confusing world of pregnancy and birth. You can go to the classes by yourself, or with your birth partner.

There are private options available too, including NCT classes, if you want a more comprehensive course in a smaller group.

When should I sign up to an antenatal class?

While antenatal classes don’t usually start until you’re around 25 weeks pregnant, it can still be a good idea to look into booking classes as early in your pregnancy as you feel comfortable, as they do sometimes fill up quickly.

How much are antenatal classes? 

NHS classes are free, but if you choose to go for a private class you will have to pay. While the cost varies depending on the type of courses and where in the country you are, a 2016 Which? survey found that parents pay £176 on average for their antenatal classes.

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’ll talk about your options for where and how to give birth.
  • You might get a tour of the maternity unit – find out what to ask during the visit with our checklist.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to get to know other mums- and dads-to-be in the class.

Who runs NHS antenatal classes?

  • Midwives will usually lead NHS classes, and you might even meet the midwife who will look after you when it comes to giving birth.
  • The classes are likely to be in the hospital or a community health centre.

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 your baby and life as a parent.
  • Because the classes typically last longer than 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.

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.

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.
  • NCT classes can be held anywhere from community centres to church halls and pubs.

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. 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 these very useful as they can raise questions and concerns – and make friends – 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.

Coronavirus and antenatal classes 

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) says that attending antenatal care when you are pregnant is essential to ensure the wellbeing of you and your baby.

It says, ‘There is a potential risk of harm to you and your baby if you don’t attend your appointments, even in the context of coronavirus.’

If you are well and have no complications from past pregnancies and have a routine scan or visit due in the coming days, you should be able to attend your antenatal care as normal. Contact your maternity unit for advice and a plan.

The appointment may well change due to staffing requirements or may even be conducted on the telephone or using videoconference, provided you don’t need any tests or observations.

It could be that the number of antenatal visits you have is reduced but you will be told if this is the case. You shouldn’t make a decision to skip visits unless you’ve first agreed it with your team.

However, the recommendation that your bump will be measured from around 26 weeks of pregnancy should be observed by your maternity team, unless you are in the recommended 14 day self isolation period.

It may also be that your partner cannot attend antenatal appointments with you. Check with your maternity team to see if this is the case.

If you are in self-isolation and have an antenatal appointment coming up, you should contact your midwife or antenatal clinic to inform them of your situation.

It’s likely that your routine appointments will be delayed until your isolation period ends. If your maternity team advise you that your appointment can’t wait, the necessary arrangements will be made for you to be seen.

If you have suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should also contact your maternity team and they’ll arrange the right place and time for you to attend your appointments: you should not attend a routine clinic.

With regards to antenatal classes, the NHS is hoping to offer virtual ones. The RCOG suggests contacting your local maternity service to find out how they will support you.

The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) has launched its antenatal classes in a virtual format and will be providing online courses for the foreseeable future.

If you have any concerns about the wellbeing or yourself or your unborn baby during your self-isolation period, contact your midwife or, out of hours, your maternity team for further advice on whether you need to attend hospital or not.

Page last updated 28/03/20. Please check out Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for any more recent updates.  

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