Antenatal classes help you to prepare for labour, the birth of your baby and becoming a parent.
Many maternity hospitals and health centres offer antenatal classes free of charge.
At the classes, you will meet other people who are expecting a baby. You can ask questions and express your concerns.
Your hospital and local health centre may also provide a breastfeeding preparation class.
Choosing an antenatal class
Talk to your GP, midwife or your public health nurse about classes that are available in your area.
Start thinking about this early in pregnancy and book, as places may be full at the time you wish to attend.
In some areas there are private antenatal classes available. It is important to research the credentials of the course providers.
Your midwife or GP may be able to offer you guidance if you are unclear about which classes to attend.
Speak to your midwife, public health nurse or GP if you cannot attend classes. They may have books, leaflets and DVDs that might help.
When to start antenatal classes
Most formal antenatal classes start when you are between 26 to 32 weeks pregnant.
Classes are participant-led. This means that the members of the class decide the pace and have a say in the topics discussed in the class.
If you are expecting twins, or more, consider starting antenatal education early. Your babies may arrive early.
Vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) antenatal classes are offered in many areas. This is for women who had have a previous caesarean birth.
How often are classes and how long do they last
Classes may be offered weekly, during the day, in the evening or over a full day, depending on the maternity hospital or health centre. They may last for 2 or 3 hours or longer for a full day.
Pregnant women are entitled to take paid time off work to attend antenatal classes.
Classes for partners, lone parents, teenagers and young adults
Partners are usually welcome at classes. Check with your midwife before attending.
Some areas may have antenatal education especially for lone parents and teenagers and young adults.
Topics covered in antenatal classes
You will have the opportunity to ask questions and request topics of your choosing.
Topics can be anything from what happens during labour and birth to parking and visiting times at the hospital.
Examples of topics are:
- how to stay healthy during pregnancy
- emotions that you may experience during your pregnancy
- what happens during labour and birth
- how to deal with labour
- positions and breathing for labour and birth
- relaxation techniques
- pain relief
- different types of births and interventions
- preparation for becoming a parent
- caring for your baby
- developing a relationship with your baby
- looking after your relationship with your partner
- safe skin-to-skin contact
- your health after the birth of your baby
- hopes and concerns