Antenatal classes - what to expect

Pregnant women at antenatal class

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 looking after a newborn. Antenatal 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.

What kind of antenatal classes are there?

NCT courses

The main provider of antenatal courses is NCT (formerly known as National Childbirth Trust). They offer two types of antenatal courses, NCT Signature and NCT Essentials. Signature courses are tailored to individual parents' needs, while Essentials are the newest and most affordable.

Courses cover:

  • The development of your unborn baby
  • Changes for you and your partner
  • Your health and wellbeing
  • Giving birth
  • Caring for your baby
  • Which people and services are there for you

This Mumsnetter 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.”

How much do antenatal classes cost?

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 in a 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.

What happens at antenatal classes?

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, e.g. pregnancy yoga.

One Mumsnetter 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.”

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.

Antenatal classes for fathers

It's not just mothers who need to get ready for a baby. 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.”

Postnatal classes

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. One Mumsnetter 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.”

When should I book my antenatal classes?

When to begin antenatal classes

Book asap. They will put you down for a course in your third trimester, but can get booked up a long time in advance.

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.

Why should I go to antenatal classes?

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.

One Mumsnetter 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.”

You can also get the social side of classes online – the advantage being that they're there any time of the day or night and not just on a Tuesday morning. Check out the Mumsnet Antenatal talk boards for advice, sympathy and support.