Antenatal Education

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As you start to think about giving birth to your baby you might want to find out as much as possible about your choices. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or fifth time, each birth is different and circumstances change.

Antenatal education or antenatal classes can sound a little formal and many people may not feel they want to be ‘educated’. It might feel a bit like being back at school. But be assured that this is very different. This is more a sharing of information in a very relaxed setting. Groups are kept small so that no one feels embarrassed to ask questions. It is an ideal way to have all those questions answered by an expert. You will also meet other parents who will be preparing for birth and becoming a family just as you are.

Some of the choices you will need make around your birth could be:

  • where to give birth
  • techniques to help cope with contractions
  • the benefits of waterbirth
  • understanding complex birth such as caesarean birth
  • knowing the options for managing pain with analgesia (drugs)
  • more natural forms of pain management
  • the benefits of being mobile for labour
  • understanding induction of labour
  • choices for the placenta (afterbirth)
  • vitamin K for your baby
  • feeding your baby

Why Do I Need Antenatal Education?

Like any big life event, labour and birth needs a bit of looking into. Often people plan holidays, a house move, a wedding or a new job with much more research than planning a labour. The evidence tells us that understanding what is on offer helps you to make better decisions in labour. Better decisions will result in feeling more satisfied with your labour and birth, starting you on the best path to parenthood.

Making decisions about whether to accept an intervention in labour can be hard. It can be a time of high emotion and stress. If you understand your options before labour this will remove some of the anxiety on the day.

But My Midwife or Doctor Will Make All The Decision For Me!

This is simply not true. Healthcare professionals such as midwives and doctors will work in partnership with you. They will offer you information, and sometimes advice. The choice to accept or decline is yours alone. This is called ‘consent’, and it is worth knowing that anything that is offered to you in pregnancy and labour will need your consent. This ranges from blood pressure checks and blood tests in pregnancy to induction of labour and intimate examinations in labour. You have the right to make your own decisions about your body and you can choose to accept or decline. This is true even if health professionals don’t agree with your decision.

If you would like more information on consent, go to Birthrights Consent: the key facts – Birthrights

There are some organisations who can help you to understand the decisions and choices about your care. AIMS (Association for improvements in the maternity services) is a great start.

What Type of Education Is On Offer?

Some people find face to face antenatal education helpful, and they look forward to meeting others and making friends. For some they would prefer to read, listen, or access some content online. You may find a mixture of all of this is available depending on what’s on offer in your area.

Face-to-face antenatal classes

Some hospitals offer face-to-face classes for antenatal education. These can be beneficial as it gives you on opportunity to ask questions. If you chose NHS classes, they are often held in the maternity unit and taught by midwives or maternity support workers. It may be more than one session, which gives you the chance to get to know people and cover more topics. You might have the opportunity to see the birth rooms. NHS antenatal classes are free.

Face-to-face sessions have other benefits. If you are learning about the importance of being upright in labour, you have the opportunity to practice and try different positions. Birth partners can often learn massage techniques, or you can both learn breathing and relaxation techniques for birth.

Ask your midwife what is available at your local maternity unit.

If you choose to attend private antenatal classes there will be a cost. These classes will be run by an experienced antenatal teacher who may or may not be a midwife. As they are charged for you will often find they offer more sessions and can be smaller groups.

Hypnobirth Classes

If hypnobirth classes sound like something you would never consider, keep an open mind as they can be useful.

This type of antenatal education aims to help you feel calm, confident, and more relaxed. It helps you to work with your body, releasing fears and concerns about birth. Hypnobirth teaches you how to manage your stress hormones and reduce anxiety, leading to a calmer and sometimes easier birth.

Many people see hypnobirth as a way of managing pain and you can use it alongside more traditional methods of pain management. Hypnobirth can be used for all births, including a caesarean birth or an induction of labour.

Where Can I Access Hypnobirth?

Very few hospitals offer hypnobirth classes. This is because there is limited research into hypnobirth. This means it will work for some people and not for others. However, whichever methods of pain management you choose, they will work differently for everyone.  We know that hypnobirth is safe and has no side effects.

There are privately-run hypnobirth classes or one-to-one sessions. These can be face-to-face or online. There will be a cost.

Online Education

You can find antenatal education online. This can be provided by NHS maternity services or a private clinics.

In Suffolk and northeast Essex, we have created online films on 17 topics around pregnancy, labour, birth and early days with your baby.

BabyCentre gives you access to online information including labour and birth videos.

Newborn Care and Infant Feeding Information

Suffolk County Council offers virtual breastfeeding workshops.

Some maternity services offer newborn care and infant feeding sessions. Check with your midwife for details.

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