Antenatal classes help to guide you through pregnancy and prepare you for becoming a parent. They give you the chance to discuss your options for giving birth, manage your expectations of labour and raise any concerns or anxieties you may have about giving birth and looking after a newborn.
Classes are led by experts, but they are also a great opportunity to meet other pregnant women and their partners, who are going through the same experiences as you.
The main provider of antenatal classes is the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). Its courses cover:
- Pregnancy and birth choices
- Choosing where to have your baby
- What happens in labour
- The role of the partner in labour
- Birth positions, relaxation, breathing and massage
- Pain relief choices - natural and medical
- What complications might arise
- Looking after a newborn and feeding
- Early parenting, lifestyle changes
Mumsnetter Missismac explains in more detail: "Every teacher chooses what to teach and how to teach it, so no two courses are the same. If you want specific topics fully covered I would advise you to contact the booking secretary for your course and check that your teacher will be covering these. Make sure you get the course that's right for you."
• Pregnancy home page
• Week by week pregnancy calendar
• Pregnancy hospital bag
• Newborn baby essentials
• Monitoring baby movements
• Braxton Hicks
• Birth partners
• Water birth
• Caesarean section
• Getting labour started
You have to pay for NCT classes - the fee depends on the number of teaching hours and the area of the UK you live in.
NHS antenatal classes
The NHS provides classes run by midwives or health visitors. These take place at your hospital, health centre or local children's centre. If yours take place in a hospital, you may be given a tour of the labour ward.
NHS classes are free but often have limited places. Speak to your midwife or GP during an antenatal appointment to find out what is available near you.
Different types of antenatal class
Some antenatal classes are organised especially for women pregnant with twins, triplets or more, to discuss topics specific to this kind of pregnancy and what they should expect from the birth.
There are also classes on home births and water births, with extra information about what you need to consider and prepare for if you choose one of these options.
Many independent classes, often held in a local community centre or private venue, cover topics such as breastfeeding and hypnobirthing or teach activities to help with breathing and labour positions, eg pregnancy yoga.
Mumsnetter missduff advises: "Check out your local area to see if there are any groups on, speak to your midwife to see if she knows of anything, or contact your local children's centre."
When to begin antenatal classes
Most antenatal classes start when you are 30-32 weeks pregnant, around eight to 10 weeks before your baby is due.
If you're expecting more than one baby, it's advisable to start classes earlier, around 24 weeks, because your babies are more likely to be born early.
Antenatal 'refresher' classes
Even if you've already had a baby (or babies), you may want to have a refresher course. While you can attend any antenatal class, there are classes specifically tailored towards women who know the basics already.
These classes are generally shorter and focus less on the practicalities and more on giving you the chance to reflect on your previous labours and the space to discuss your options for this birth. Refresher courses can also help prepare you for looking after more than one child.
The social side of antenatal classes
As well as the information and advice you get from professionals, antenatal classes are a great opportunity to meet and bond with other pregnant women in your area. This can be a great support throughout your pregnancy and mean you know other women with babies the same age as yours who are happy to obsess about feeding, sleeping and centiles once you've all given birth.
Mumsnetter OneHandFlapping sums it up: "The best thing about antenatal classes is the chance to meet other local mums who will give birth at about the same time as you. You'll meet them again at baby groups and the doctor's surgery, and it's nice to have some moral support and adult company once your baby is here."
- Join an online antenatal club or start your own
Antenatal classes for dads-to-be
Antenatal classes aren't just for pregnant women - many classes encourage both parents to attend, or you may want to bring along your own mum or a friend for support.
This Mumsnetter explains why it's a good idea: "I felt reassured because my husband hadn't done all the reading and Mumsnetting that I had done, and it made me feel he was prepared for some of the realities of labour, birth and being a parent, too."
Don't expect to know everything before your baby is born. There are plenty of postnatal classes to help you after the birth, so concentrate on what you can do now. Mumsnetter Tiktok says: "Some NCT branches do a postnatal class specifically on expressing, weaning, returning to work... all those things that only make real sense when your baby is here."