by Jackie Whitford
Are you expecting your first baby, or maybe wanting different advice or a different approach for your second or subsequent labour? Well, today you may well be spoiled (or confused) by the many choices and types of class and content on offer. Remember, the cost of the course does not necessarily reflect the quality of that course.
Let’s look at some of what’s available to you:
One day preparation courses
You should be offered an antenatal session (usually a day at a weekend) where you and your partner can attend your hospital’s approved preparation programme. This is usually run by midwives or health care assistants and will cover the physiology of labour, pain relief, breastfeeding, hospital policy and practice, including their policy on induction of labour.
Pros – you will have all the essential practical information and be aware of what to expect of the midwifery service in that hospital from a trained midwife’s or health care professional’s perspective. If you are planning to give birth in hospital, attending their prep session is a good idea – they are also free.
Cons – There may be many expectant parents attending. A lot of information is provided over five plus hours which may be hard to take in, or reflect upon, and discuss within the one day course. There is little chance to establish friendships with other parents-to-be.
These are usually promoting a particular approach to labour and birth, and teach to a prescribed set of exercises and labour skills for those keen to have a ‘natural’ birth. Typically these preparation courses are based on hypnobirthing theory as originally devised by the American hypnotherapist Marie Mongan, although a number of British variations to the original programme have evolved.
Pros – Obviously convenience. You can go through the sessions at a time to suit yourself and at your own pace, repeating content if necessary.
Cons – You are unlikely to form local friendships this way. The quality of what is on offer is variable, as is the cost, and there is little or no opportunity for group discussion or any variation to the programme.
Weekly preparation for birth and parenthood courses
These weekly classes (usually two plus hours each class for five or six weeks) are offered from about 32 weeks pregnancy and are a very popular choice for pregnant women.
Each class covers specific topics, with time for discussion and practise of skills taught. Comprehensive weekly classes were started in the l950s by The NCT, although today many independent childbirth teachers offer weekly preparation classes. Women are encouraged to bring their (birth) partners to some or all of the sessions. Course content can vary, according to the affiliation and background of the teacher but should cover physiological labour and self-help skills, pain relief, medical interventions, breastfeeding and early parenthood. Numbers in these classes can be anything from two or three couples to up to 12. Most courses will also hold a postnatal get together when all the babies have arrived.
Pros – This is a more relaxed form of preparation with time to revisit, discuss and practise helpful exercises to assist labour and birth. A good class will take time to share and explore hopes and fears amongst class members. Latest independent research and books can be discussed so that women can feel informed, empowered and in a position to decide what is right for them. Very importantly, usually a strong support and friendship group develops which will be of huge benefit in the early days of parenthood and in many cases lasts for years.
Cons – These classes are usually held in the evenings when you may be tired and also you may not gel with the other women/parents in the group, especially if the group is very small. Also, few NCT classes teach hypnobirthing (which is a programme in itself).
So what else to consider in choosing your antenatal class?
What makes a good teacher? Good antenatal teachers do not emerge from just one place or profession. In fact some of the best teachers of the last 50 years have come from other backgrounds other than midwifery – teaching, hypnotherapy, physiotherapy, anthropology and especially women who have had personal experiences of positive birthing. It is wise to look into the background and relevant experience of your teacher before committing to a particular class – hopefully they will tick several boxes. Antenatal teaching qualifications are not regulated and some ‘would be’ teachers will offer classes after completing just a weekend training course, which issued some certification for paying and attending the course. Recommendations from friends are always a good idea.
In my experience, good antenatal teachers have a real enthusiasm and passion for their subject. They will have a firm belief in the innate ability of women to birth their babies and will spend time and practise teaching skills to aid this. They will also explore variations, special circumstances and medical practices and personal choices so you can work towards the birth you want. The class you choose should equip you for a positive birth however your baby arrives.
Jackie Whitford runs Birth Wise classes in Lewes and Henfield.
For further details please visit www.birth-wise.co.uk