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These classes, led by experts, are intended to prepare you for labour and life with a newborn (insofar as it's possible to prepare you for either!).
They'll give you the chance to discuss your birth options, and to raise any concerns or anxieties you might have about giving birth and looking after a baby.
They're also (and for many, this turns out to be the most important bit) a great opportunity to meet other women who are in the same boat as you; who'll be obsessing over the same things up to and after birth and, crucially, who live nearby and are likely to be available to meet up for tea/coffee/wine, as the occasion demands.
When to begin antenatal classes
Most classes start when you're 30-32 weeks pregnant - around two months before your baby is due.
If you're expecting more than one baby, it's a good idea to start classes earlier, at around 24 weeks, because of the higher chance that your babies will make an early arrival.
Who offers antenatal classes - and how do you find them?
People tend to find antenatal classes through one of three different avenues: the NHS, the NCT (formerly the National Childbirth Trust) and independent providers.
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.
NHS classes are free but often have limited places. Speak to your midwife or GP to find out what is available near you.
The NCT is the main provider of antenatal classes. They offer two types: NCT Signature and NCT Essentials. Signature courses are tailored to individual parents' specific needs, while Essentials offer a broader overview, and are the most affordable.
You have to pay for NCT classes - the fee depends on the number of teaching hours and the area you live in.
These classes, which will carry a charge, tend to be held in local community centres or private venues, and will often discuss topics such as hypnobirthing or pregnancy yoga which may not be covered by the NHS or the NCT.
It's worth looking around for personal recommendations for classes in your area, as independent classes are far more varied in approach and emphasis, and it's important to find one that will suit you and your partner.
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Different types of antenatal classes
The type of class you choose to attend will depend on your personal circumstances, and what you're hoping to get out of the experience.
Some antenatal classes are organised especially for women who are expecting twins, triplets or more, to discuss topics specific to this kind of pregnancy and to explain what to 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.
If you've already had a baby (or babies), you can join a refresher course, specifically tailored towards women who know (at least some of) the basics.
Some branches, meanwhile, also offer postnatal classes - covering topics such as expressing, weaning and returning to work, which may well be very useful down the line.
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