Are Antenatal Classes Useful Or Too Focused On Birth?

21/10/2013 18:00 | Updated 22 May 2015

pregnant women at antenatal classRex Features

What did you make of your antenatal classes? Invaluable guidance, preparing you thoroughly for this new stage of your life, or adequate step-by-step instruction telling you about some of the not-so-nice things that might happen in labour?

Lots of parents admit that with hindsight their classes were a complete waste of time because they didn't deal with anything post-birth of the baby.

Catherine, mum of two, looks back on her NCT classes and wonders why they didn't talk her through the first weeks at home with her baby. "It focused too much on the birth and not enough on the baby – my son had blood in his hair for two days after being born as I was too scared to bath him as I didn't know how!" she says.

John, dad to two-month-old Alex, agrees: "The classes we went to didn't really talk about what happens after delivery, which is surely more important."

So surely they'll be over the moon that the government have recently announced plans to introduce parenting classes to help everyone over that problem of what on earth to do with your baby once you get home from the hospital?

Not quite.

"Although the government is keen to stress these classes are 'for all' they are quite obviously not - they are by definition 'lessons' in how to parent, and very few people would admit - or have the courage to admit - they need that, and take up probably would be those who have graduated ante and post-natal groups and are looking for another 'parenting' circle to join," says mum of one Katy.


I trust the government to tell me how to parent about as much as I trust them not to ruin the economy. That goes for all three major parties, incidentally, adds mum of two Lucy.


It's a fair point, if harshly made – who are the Government to tell parents what they should be doing? Surely the people best placed to advise new parents are people at the coal face – people who became parents quite recently but have now settled into it and can pass on their words of wisdom.

And there are a few things that new parents would definitely like to see covered in classes in order to make them useful. First and foremost is confidence boosting and lots of gentle self-esteem raising across the board.

"Whatever they cover, they should be aimed at helping first-time parents gain confidence in trusting their own instincts and not being led and often confused by baby guru manuals, well meaning parents and friends, and even health visitors," says Ann, mum to 11-month-old Isla.


Practical skills come a close second. There are a lot of day-to-day things you need to do for and with your baby that seem utterly impossible and incomprehensible at first if you've never cared for a baby before, like bathing him (as Catherine found) or even changing a nappy.


Some classes cover this – John recalls, "I learned how to change a nappy filled with grain mustard which a plastic doll was wearing."

But even that kind of practice is nothing compared to changing the nappy of a wriggling eight-month-old, the nappy of a baby with a stomach upset, or even a nappy that's been leaking... These everyday skills are always evolving and everyone can benefit from practice and advice.

But new parents seem adamant that they wouldn't expect the classes to tell them how to do everything – for example, Government minister Sarah Teather said they'd include guidance on "firm but fair" discipline, but parents feel those kinds of choices should be up to them.

Lucy says: "First-time parents can be so vulnerable and the fact is that what works for one parent will not work for another. So I'd want to see an emphasis on choice - on trying stuff out, on finding out what works for you and doing it, rather than feeling like you have to follow one particular school of thought all the time."

Mum of three under-fives Sian, a teacher, suggests: "Rather than parenting classes, I think sessions with other parents and supportive professionals where you can discuss issues is better and this needs to be available for all parents not just parents of babies – in fact, as a teacher, I think having support and advice in dealing with transition between schools and teenagers would be helpful."M

What do you think? Would you be prepared to attend a parenting class, and if so, what would you want to learn? Did you find antenatal classes useful or too obsessed about birth?

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