Although pregnancy is an exciting time, those nine months can also be filled with many unanswered questions about your changing body and developing baby. Plus, you might be feeling anxious in the build-up to labour and childbirth, or wondering how you and your partner will cope as new parents once your little one has arrived. This is where antenatal classes or childbirth education classes come in.
The benefits of antenatal classes
Whether you’re pregnant for the first or second time, carrying multiples, or have a few health issues to consider, every pregnancy and birth experience is different – and sometimes it’s better to walk through unknown territory with the help and support of experts in the field.
Attending childbirth education classes or antenatal classes can help you and your partner feel more prepared, as each class is designed to cover everything you might want to know. This includes topics unique to your personal situation, such as:
- Expert tips to manage a high-risk pregnancy or birth.
- Whether it’s safe to have a vaginal birth after a C-section (VBAC).
- How to prepare your toddler to meet their new sibling.
- Breastfeeding for the second or third time, or issues with milk supply.
Classes can also cover common issues like breastfeeding, sleep, and postnatal depression in the first six to 10 weeks after birth. The aim is to help expectant parents feel calmer, happier and more prepared for what lies ahead.
In fact, a study of more than 9 000 women published in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal and Neonatal Medicine showed that those who attended antenatal classes felt more confident as new moms and were more likely to breastfeed and attempt natural birth because of the techniques they learnt. Attending classes with a birth partner also encourages better communication and bonding between couples, as reported in the Journal of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.
Lynne Bluff, nurse, midwife and childbirth educator, shares her top six reasons to attend childbirth education classes:
- Expertise: Educators are experienced nursing sisters and midwives who have chosen to specialise in childbirth education because they passionately believe in it.
- Knowledge: You learn about all the childbirth options available to you, and the pros and cons of each.
- Tools: You’ll be given practical tips, such as breathing and relaxation techniques, birthing positions, massage and visualisation, which can help you have an easier birth.
- Confidence: You and your partner will feel more confident knowing what to expect and how to manage it.
- Preparation: You’ll be taught about all aspects of pregnancy and birth, from stretch marks to caring for your newborn.
- Connections: You’ll meet other expectant parents from your area. Lifelong friendships can be formed.
Antenatal classes available
While most antenatal or childbirth education classes are structured to cover as much as possible in a six- to eight-week course, there are different types of classes that zone in on specific issues such as the pregnancy itself, labour and birth, breastfeeding or coping strategies as new parents. Some popular classes include:
The hypnobirthing method “teaches mothers that if you remove fear and tension, severe pain doesn’t have to be a part of labour. Intense relaxation will enhance natural birthing instincts that will lead to a calm and serene birth experience,” according to the American Pregnancy Association.
If you’d prefer more personal sessions with a certified nurse, lactation consultant or midwife, there are many professionals who offer one-on-one sessions. For instance, clinic nurse and author of Toddler Sense and co-author of Baby Sense, Ann Richardson offers private consultations in Fourways, with expectant moms (and dads) throughout pregnancy to get you ready for birth – and beyond. These type of classes can cover topics from common pregnancy niggles to your birth plan, how to prepare the nursery, essential items to buy, the labour itself – and then how to manage and thrive in the first six weeks with your newborn. Some professionals might also offer check-ups and vaccinations for your baby, where you can chat about sleep issues, breastfeeding and any other questions you might have.
There’s also an emotional transition that happens when becoming new parents. Parent support classes are designed to help new couples embrace parenting with confidence, while keeping their relationship intact and maintaining that important bond. Focus areas can include:
- How to create and keep meaningful connections with your partner.
- How to build a bond with your baby from the start.
- Learning about your new roles as parents and how to maintain a positive self-esteem throughout.
Self-esteem coach Sally Thorp covers these topics in her four-week Committed at Conception workshop, which she runs from Midwives Exclusive in Pretoria. For more information, visit sallythorp.com.
General antenatal classes
If you have the time to attend a general six-week antenatal course (each session is normally once or twice a week for two hours at a time), Lynne says the following topics are covered:
- Pregnancy – physical and emotional changes
- Birth options
- Labour – breathing, water, massage, relaxation, visualisation
- Pain relief options
- Your birth plan
- Newborn care in the first six to eight weeks
- Postnatal depression.
Important questions to ask before choosing a class
Before you choose a childbirth education class for you and your partner, it’s vital to do your homework and ask the right questions regarding the people giving the classes, says Lynne.
Here’s some of the most important questions you should be asking:
- What are her qualifications? Ideally, your childbirth educator is a qualified midwife and has completed a postgraduate diploma in Childbirth Education.
- Is she a member of the Childbirth Educator Professional Forum?
- Is she a mom?
- Which birthing methods are covered in the course and which are emphasised?
- What are her expectations of labour and do they match yours?
- Can partners attend? Ideally, dad should be involved in some, or all, of the classes.
- Are practical techniques, such as breathing and positions for labour, massage, relaxation and visualisation, taught?
To find childbirth educators in your area, visit expectantmothersguide.co.za.