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Kirstie Allsopp and the NCT - what do you think?

(319 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 11-Jan-13 11:10:43

Last week, journalist and MN blogger Linda Geddes accidentally ignited a heated debate when she appeared on the Today programme discussing NCT classes with a representative from the organisation. Fellow MN blogger Kirstie Allsopp - who's been critical of the NCT before - was listening in, and fired off this tweet:

"Turn to BBC Radio 4 for talk of a book about all the absurd myths surrounding pregnancy & birth. More NCT b****** as usual though. Lots of people have good NCT experiences, but many don't. This is a very politicised, dogmatic and in my experience, scary organisation."

As she's done previously, Kirstie argues that the NCT is so focused on natural birth that they are letting down women who don't want, or aren't able, to have one by failing to prepare them - with the result that mothers who have Caesareans (for e.g) can feel stigmatized. Here's her blog post - fellow MN bloggers In a Different Voice and When The Baby Sleeps have also posted on the subject.

What do you think - do you agree with Kirstie, and if not, why? Tell us if you blog about this - and if you don't have a blog (why not? wink) let us know what you think here on the thread.

ballroompink Fri 11-Jan-13 19:18:36

I have had a largely positive experience with the NCT. Our antenatal class made really good friends and while we've been off on maternity leave we've met up, gone to groups or each others' houses etc pretty much every week which has been great. Our teacher was obviously very pro-natural birth and a bit of a hippie in that respect but she didn't neglect to discuss pain relief and c-sections - we had a whole session dedicated to those. We did not, however, discuss formula feeding at all which suited the group fine in the end as all of us hoped to bf initially and all of us did. I felt that we covered a lot of really useful stuff about the birth but also about the early days of parenting and dealing with a newborn.

Several of us had bf issues - mastitis, latch worries etc - and contacted the NCT bf counsellor who was really helpful. She came to my house and had a good chat which really reassured me.

I don't live in an affluent area so it didn't occur to me that the classes would be populated by a 'certain sort' of couple. Thankfully the other couples are all totally down to earth and easy to get on with.

Toomuchtea Fri 11-Jan-13 19:35:10

Good point Scottishmummy, the NCT does need to think about how it moves on from here.

I do find it sad though that I was regarded as utterly barking mad by several of DD's friends' mothers for having had a home birth with DD: I've been taken to task with risking her health (this from people who could see she was a perfectly healthy child), so the prejudice goes both ways.

Whatever choice women make, there seems to be another woman waiting there to judge.

BoffinMum Fri 11-Jan-13 19:54:41

I went to NCT classes as a teenage mum and they were brilliant. Couldn't do enough for me. Certainly learned all about drugs, CS and so on. Perhaps it depends who you get.

Bakingtins Fri 11-Jan-13 20:04:38

My experience was that Csections, induction and all the pain relief methods were talked about both in terms of pros and cons and lots of info on what was involved and what choices remained open to you if you ended up with a section. We were also told that statistically 2 of our group of 7 would have a section (spot on, plus one forceps delivery in theatre).
The breastfeeding class which was seperate to the antenatal classes was very pro-breastfeeding, as you'd expect. One couple chose not to attend as they'd decided to formula feed, and that was fine. We all got a handout on safe formula feeding.
Postnatally I've been to a local NHS breastfeeding support group that is run by a NCT breastfeeding counsellor who has been brilliant. I was fortunate that my antenatal group hit it off and we were good friends in the early days and still meet up 6 yrs later.
I'm sure it does vary depending on the teacher and the make-up of the group but that's true of all such things.
I also went to the NHS classes and they were rubbish, there was no time or space to talk about any issues that were important to the individual, and they were so oversubscribed that we were crammed like sardines and many people couldn't get a place until they were due, so gave birth before completing the course.
I'm sure paying for the course and the general ethos does make it very middle-class, but they do offer subsidised courses if you have a low income, not sure what more they can do when they have a very long training program to become an instructor and they quite rightly expect to be paid for their time.

LittleBearPad Fri 11-Jan-13 20:21:23

The first thing my NCT teacher asked my group was if anyone was having a home birth - no one was. She then spent the next two days evangelising home births and how great it was to have an independent midwife like her involved, including bringing in one of her previous clients. If I'd had a home birth with a birth pool it would have crashed through our floor into the downstairs flat. Not something she considered about London homes.

If we heard the phrase 'cascade of intervention' once we heard it twenty times and were left in no doubt that medical interventions would be wrong, as would any form of drug with the possible exception of Gas and air. Of course if we were in the right frame of mind the oxytocin would mean we'd be fine anyway hmm.

She showed us how to change a nappy only when asked and nothing was said about c sections.

My group ended up with c sections, forceps, ventouse, inductions etc. These were all painted as bad by the teacher. My group post birth thought the teacher was pretty pointless.

Finally when I called the NCT breastfeeding helpline for help and left a message I was never called back. Frankly they are useless.

Bessie123 Fri 11-Jan-13 20:27:06

Just because she knows how to sew a cushion cover doesn't mean Kirstie Allsop knows anything about other stuff. I would have been lost without the nct when I first had children. I had a c-section and it made no difference at all to my experience of nct, which was completely brilliant.

elkiedee Fri 11-Jan-13 20:28:30

I'm shocked by some of these stories - haven't come across anything like this. My mum did NCT with me and then with my much younger brother and sister and kept urging me to do it, but there didn't seem to be any antenatal courses in or even near my area when I was pg with DS1. Just before he was born I got an email about a postnatal course and was booked on.

DS1 - induced at 8 days, 26.5 hours labour, ventouse delivery. Problems bf, readmitted with dehydration to paediatrics, very little knowledge or support for bf, in the business of dealing with ill babies and children.

NCT postnatal tutor was quite supportive and non-judgemental. Local NCT tea group was organised by volunteer who was also bf peer supporter and quite committed, but she never said anything which made me feel bad about it, and lots of people who came were bottle feeding. However, we were part of a branch which was mostly run by people in the much posher west of the borough.

Our postnatal group chose to continue meeting for a while but everyone was a bit far away from me as the class had been run just outside the other side of the borough.

Most of the people who made me feel bad with DS1 - I was distressed beyond reason about failing to bf and about the turn things had taken - were NHS staff - I don't remember NCT volunteers or other women at events saying nasty stuff.

JerryLeadbetter Fri 11-Jan-13 20:29:08

I have had mixed feelings about the NCT. When I was pg with DS (born Feb 2011) I did look into classes in my local area (we're in London) but they were about 300 quid, and thought that there was no way I was going to pay that (even though we could've afforded it at a squeeze). DP and I felt we could read up on most of what appears to be covered in the classes, having since spoken to friends who have attended. I think the price of the classes doesn't make the NCT inclusive at all.

I actually joined the NCT after having DS, and got involved in some branch activities. I'm lucky that i've made good friends with about 9 women from there who I see on a regular basis (they comprise of 2 different ante-natal groups who I met at our local playgroup), so that is a big positive. However there aren't many members of our branch 'like me', who are in their twenties, almost EVERYONE seems to be in their thirties or older. This might be our area demographic, being London. I personally couldn't give a crap about age, but I think the NCT could work on encouraging younger members. I know lots of younger people who think the NCT is 'snobby' and wouldn't touch it with a barge pole, which is a shame as it can be a great source of support.

Whilst I can't comment on the NCT's agenda as far as birth is concerned, having never experienced an ante-natal class, I don't particularly like their attitude to formula feeding, as someone who failed to bf, twice. (I now have a DD too). I completely believe in the importance of promoting and encouraging bf, and I think it's great that many branches offer special counsellors to help you if you have problems. BUT there is BARELY any literature on FF, how to FF safely, and some more senior members of our branch treated FF like it was poison. As someone who was FF and had wanted to BF, I felt it was my dirty secret and something to be very ashamed of and like I had 'failed'. There is nothing that seems to support mothers who hadn't managed for whatever reason, and nothing that says "hey, it's ok".

My NCT instructor had a hypnotherapy background (which she was obviously peddling) and gave us stories about waddling around Mark's N Spark doing your shopping while in labour. She was anti pain relief and had it in for mid wives, basically saying that the husbands job was to bring Krispie Cremes into so you would get better service from the midwife. Very anti Pethidine as well.

She had expected us to of done lots of reading about and I was thinking that's I'd paid for..,

There was no chance for a quick shop at Marks to get the Krispie Cremes in during my 30 hour labour.

We all decided she was the last person you'd want at your birth doing Hypnotherapy..and I decided I felt a lot better after Pethidine during my long labour..and that birth was rather in the lap of the gods..

funnyperson Fri 11-Jan-13 20:37:13

I liked my NCT classes- took me away from the world of work and was the first (and pleasant) experience of other mums to be/mums who lived locally.
That said, I met one in the supermarket 3 years ago who cheerily said the group had an annual reunion every year (the DC were in their teens) and ...left me out every time sad. So in the end they were snobby after all.

scottishmummy Fri 11-Jan-13 20:42:19

it may have escaped you Bessie but ka like rest of us is discussing .not sewing
her opinion is as valid as anyone send to an extent her schleb meeja raises profile
instead of well it worked for you,what about were nct hasn't worked.the other account

giveitago Fri 11-Jan-13 20:45:59

My experience was that is was very pro natural birth and very pro breast feeding. And very anti pethadine (but so my hospital so no issues there really as it wasn't an option).

I was very scared (because it was last chance saloon for us) and hoping for a csection but everything was based on the pros and 'easiness' for natural childbirth and one very short and frightening session on csection. It changed my mind completely (not such a bad thing) and then I wanted natural. For those who wanted natural it sort of pushed them towards wanting the complete natural birth without any pain relief sort of thing.

In any case, my birth was difficult and it ended up in an emergency cs. So I was only a tiny bit prepared and very fearful of the cs as I was more prepared for natural. However I was very unprepared for bf and caring for baby. So in retrospect it was very natural birth centred and hence not that useful for me.

Post birth I found I was judged for not popping to the park every bloody 5 minutes for chat with child with group . I couldn't as I only breastfed in private (my values) and could only do so (old massive tits and the risk of suffocation for ds). Lots of questions about my not breastfeeding in public and not sleep training. So much happier when I dropped out.

My df had a second child (my sis) in his late 50's. He gave me some good advice about parenting across the generations and it's not very complimentary to group motherhood today. He and his second wife just avoided. Sadly I've found his observations to be right.

So NCT was not in hindsight for me. Step mum had 3 kids previously and I'd much rather take her word on stuff than the NCT crowd. And to this day I just stand and watch the group motherhood thing and laugh.

But they fill a gap where hospitals are offering almost no birthing classes.

elkiedee Fri 11-Jan-13 20:46:16

With DS2, I did an antenatal class - I was the only 2nd timer and the only one who lived in a different borough from where the course was held. We met up for a few months before we started going back to work and several of us are still friends - only one has deleted me (and no one else) from her facebook friends! The teacher did go into some detail about caesarian procedures - I think one woman either had to have a CS or a very carefully managed hospital birth for medical reasons she knew in advance.

I went into labour on a day when we had more snow than London had seen in more than 20 years, buses were cancelled and lots of the hospital staff hadn't made it into work. I ended up with a crash em CS and spent several days on the postnatal ward. I repeatedly begged for help with bf but DS2 still had to be taken back into hospital, we were actually there for even longer because I tried everything before top ups and questioned all the advice I was given.

He did have to have formula top ups but I managed to resist them being anything but top ups (rather than replacements for top ups) and managed to return to bf from 6 weeks to 6 months, and well beyond.

No one made me feel bad about having to have an emcs - it might have been the peculiarly stressful circumstances because of the freak weather conditions (instead of a room on a labour ward, a bed in postnatal with one lovely midwifery manager trying to support 10 screaming women in labour on her own for 4 hours, and then she had someone else to help her and was able to go and argue I really needed to get down to the labour ward). Or it might have been baby's presentation, there was no question in my mind that it was anything I had done, or not.

On BF, 2 of my class gave up quite quickly, one mix fed, and one or two were right, 6 months, great, we can use bottles!

While I don't think it was NCT on its own, I felt I won through the second time because I was able to find information, advice and emotional support from sources which wouldn't exist if it weren't for campaigning from groups like NCT, as well as MN and other online support, and also the help of my local NHS PCT breastfeeding adviser who came out with my health visitor and advised that DS2 was doing ok (he was born 10 lb and dropped way way down the growth curve, but he was growing).

HotheadPaisan Fri 11-Jan-13 20:57:24

I enjoyed my classes but it all wasn't really me. I had cses and but my kids have breasted forever so pretty balanced overall smile

I did think they overdid the prep of formula, it was like we were handling a volatile substance, and they completely underdid pain management. But on the whole they are a good counter to all the other info out there.

JoInScotland Fri 11-Jan-13 21:02:47

I am in Scotland, and went to a class in Dunfermline - the closest I could get to where I live. I agree that caesarean sections were not really covered at all- a bit of one class, and not all of that. I was a low-risk mother and ended up having an emergency caesarean and then even more surgery as I had an enormous hemorrage afterwards. I did not feel prepared for this at all! NCT has the message that we can all have a natural birth if we just put our minds to it, but hey, I wanted a water birth for my son and it didn't happen. So I do feel let down that they didn't prepare me in any way for what happened.

I also asked about formula feeding at one session, which was all about breastfeeding, just in case I had problems or well, I like to know everything I can find out. And the teacher just wouldn't discuss it at all. Thank goodness I was able to breastfeed in the end... though when I spent a week in the High Dependency Unit my son did have a bottle now and again because I was on morphine and really out of it! It turns out I was glad he got the occasional bottle because my DP could feed him now and then & DS was able to cope when I had the norovirus when he was 6 weeks old and ended up being hospitalised because of it.

So there were positives to using a bottle, for me, and that sort of story is never told. I would not be the sort of mum they would invite back to talk to a NCT class - they would always invite the mother who had a waterbirth to whale song, if you see what I mean, and that is not everyone's experience.

elkiedee Fri 11-Jan-13 21:06:42

Also with the NCT, a group of us in the area I live in decided to set up a new branch - I wasn't convinced of the need for it until I heard the reports from the old branch shouting at our representatives for raising the idea. Anyway, we got support at regional level and did it - we have our ups and downs, but just over 3 years on, I think there is more support for women in our area available than there was under the old branch - my borough has a very sharp east west divide and the old branch had 5 tea groups in the west and one for the whole of the east.

We still have room for improvement - most of those involved are the middle class people in a working class area, and we have less people in the north and east of the area than in the south, west and middle. But there is at least stuff going on within walking/easy travelling distance of people's homes.

Thelioninwinter Fri 11-Jan-13 21:06:53

Hmmm, interesting reading here and I'm namechanging to respond to this thread because I am an NCT antenatal teacher and I like to keep my work and fun separate on Mumsnet.

I too had mixed experiences with the NCT as an attendee when pregnant but with each course I did (three in total), I learned more about the process of labour, birth and the transition to becoming a parent of 1, 2 or more children. I particularly liked the space and time given to considering how my husband and I might choose to parent our children (safe sleeping, what did we think about crying/sleeping/different methods, how were we going to seek support around us after the baby was born). It was a gentle, exploratory, questioning environment to open the door to parenthood but made it very clear that the choices were for us to make.

I'm not sure my husband would have engaged with any preparation for the birth of our first child had we not gone to classes. For that alone, I am thankful that we went.

But I too was doubtful about some of the topics covered (vaccinations?) at the time, the breastfeeding teaching was diabolical and the group was very varied in its income level so I didn't really find any common buddies. The local branch was unwelcoming of poorer members as well.

But we moved, did the classes again in another area, they were monumentally better, we were also more experienced and perhaps asked more knowledgeable questions and found the experience more satisfying. The local branch were lovely, I have made friends through the class, through volunteering, through attending the baby group and some of my closest friends (and bookgroup pals) were people I met through or via NCT links. No regrets there. Whole range of birth experiences as well.

Everyone I meet has a different opinion on any topic you care to mention. The same is true for birth/parenting (evidence being this site, which I love). The individual opinions matter to those individuals, because they're making the right decisions for them, at that time, with the information they are comfortable using.

I chose to begin training as an antenatal teacher with the NCT because I felt that I was capable of doing what others had done for me and my husband - lay out and explain/enable us to explore what goes on (or might go on), how we might choose different options and what the evidenced-based pros and cons of some of those choices might impact us and give a space and time to explore the changeover into becoming parents and how we might want to plan or discuss our different views together beforehand, while considering the impact of our changing relationship after the birth of the baby. All of it, not just some of it.

Sometimes, just looking at the evidence on, say, effects of epidurals, can be quite challenging to someone who had previously been thinking that it was a failsafe fallback solution. I don't have an agenda there in raising the evidence other than supporting someone to make an informed choice about their decision to have an epidural.

I hope I do that, I know I love meeting such a wide spectrum of parents (and every single one is different) and exploring what it is that they want to consider or cover in preparation for this particular baby. Not every person in every class/group will find everything we cover in classes helpful nor will they agree with it, that's OK. But we always cover Csection, induction, NICU, recovery etc etc, because that's part of a potential birth outcome.

The group define the agenda, they come up with the topics and I design the course around them. We can't cover everything either. I ask them on the last session to discuss together or to define for themselves how and where they are going to find the information that we have not covered (various, depending on the course)?

So, I suppose I am sad in reading some of the posts on this thread and hesitated before posting this. Am still in two minds now, here we go.

MrsDeVere Fri 11-Jan-13 21:07:46

£300!!! shock

FFS how is anyone supposed to afford that.

I reckon you are bang on scottishmummy, that price is designed to weed out the undesirables (i.e. ME) without them having to actually admit they don't want working class/single mums/non-u

I know they have to cover costs but bloody hell. If they were that dedicated to promoting maternal health and empowered childbirth, surely they would be working with NHS free classes?
Outreach to the women who are most likely to need to know about options available to them?

Their little heads would pop off if they spent a day chatting to my mates round here. Induction, sweeps, hospital births and ECS are seen as inevitable by the majority of women I know.
Birth is something to be feared, it is something that you do not think about or plan for, you just hope you get through it alive.
Most have difficult and problematic pregnancies despite being young.
You do as you are told by medics you are meant to dislike and distrust.

There is a real need for non judgemental and appropriate, sensitive information.

I won't hold me breath.

OxfordToLondoner Fri 11-Jan-13 21:12:33

NCT was a great way of meeting friends - 2 couples we're still very close with nearly 5 years on. Worth every penny for having a ready made support network!

But, in defence of NCT, I felt well prepped for my birthing plan stuff (birthing buckets, balls and all kinds of paraphernalia) right through to a C-section, and never felt that either was the 'right' way.

The ante-natal yoga group i went to was far worse....I was the only woman who actually WANTED to have the birth in a hospital....everyone else wanted a birthing tup in a yurt etc.!

I'm pregnant again now, and wish there was an NCT round 2 for Mums who've done it before but want to scrub up on things and meet new people.

MissBetseyTrotwood Fri 11-Jan-13 21:22:53

The breadth of people's experience with NCT varies hugely; our teacher was very pragmatic. We role played the operating theatre and all and it was a very open and non judgemental environment. I have other friends who have used it and their teacher was clearly biased towards home births and other low intervention options. A close friend of mine lost her baby at 35 weeks - the teacher was very, very supportive.

Like any other largish organisation there will be variation in its teachers and their beliefs and how (or if) the NCT may choose action to standardise its teaching without ridding it of all personality and diversity will be interesting to see. It may seek to maintain the status quo, who knows.

It was bloody expensive though. I took ante natal classes at our local leisure centre at a fiver a pop and they were what got me through. The NHS ones were delivered (sorry, no pun intended) at the hospital and were more lecturey but very, very informative.

elkiedee Fri 11-Jan-13 21:23:36

Just read KA - On breastfeeding - no, it's not just a case of trying harder or being braver. But, nor does it just happen, or not. My experience - wanted to and couldn't first time, desperately upset about it, managed to fight through the problems with a lot of support and advice and preparation the second time. That support and advice exists because women's organisations like the NCT campaigned for it and developed the support and advice services. When it didn't work for me, it wasn't the NCT who made me feel like shit, ever!

My question for KA and other people rubbishing the NCT is: would you like to have decisions about how to give birth and how to feed simply taken away from women altogether? Should everyone simply be told how she's going to give birth and how she's going to feed her baby?

I think we should argue for women to have the right to choose how and when to have children, how to give birth, how to feed them - those decisions shouldn't be made just by healthcare providers (public or private!). Don't get me started on baby feeding issues. I think that's what the NCT intended to do when it was set up.

MissBetseyTrotwood Fri 11-Jan-13 21:26:19

And re. the ready made friends. It only works if you actually like the people in your group. Frankly, we just didn't like the rest of the people in ours. At the start of the first session, when the teacher was going around asking us why we were there, the general answer was along the lines of 'Now we've paid our money, tell us how we get preferential treatment from the NHS.'

crkm Fri 11-Jan-13 21:35:47

I went to an NCT support group in 1993 when I had my eldest dd. I was just 20, a single mum on benefits. I didnt go back!

elkiedee Fri 11-Jan-13 21:37:45

OxfordtoLondoner, I believe there are refresher courses, but there wasn't one near me when I did it 2nd time around, I still found the course I did with 5 sets of first timers useful.

I also managed to get on to a refresher NHS course at the hospital - just 2 hours or so rather than a full day, and we were all 2nd timers.

Have you contacted your local branch about social activities etc? Our branch was set up by 2nd timers and many of the people involved now have 2-3 kids. Our events are generally open to all and you don't have to be a member, and this is generally NCT policy (also true of local tea groups. You should be able to find branch contact details through the NCT website, many of us also have facebook pages now, and my branch has an email list. We also now have teas organised on a basis of due and birth dates, about three months at a time (I'm hazy about the details because my kids aren't exactly babies now sad)

elkiedee I agree we should give women as many options as possible, but the vast majority of people cannot get the support from the NCT as the cost is prohibitive.

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