When we found out we were pregnant, we knew we wanted to do some kind of antenatal classes. There are a few different options out there, but we’d heard about NCT through my Mum so we didn’t even bother looking into any others. Everyone gets offered NHS antenatal classes at the hospital they’re delivering at, so we booked onto those as well, although we never got round to doing them as I was already in hospital at that point so I literally have nothing to compare what we experienced to!
What is NCT?
NCT stands for National Childbirth Trust and they are a charity who support parents. They’re probably best known for their antenatal classes, but they also offer membership and support for new parents with their 1st 1,000 Days campaign.
What do the antenatal classes involve?
Antenatal classes are designed to teach you about birth, baby and beyond. NCT provide a choice of two: Signature or Essential. The Essential class is basically a shorter version of the Signature class and is run over two days (12 hours total). The Signature classes were run across five evenings and each session was three hours long (15 hours total). We booked the Signature and it cost about £160.
Each course follows a similar pattern and is mostly about pregnancy and birth (two thirds) rather than parenthood (one third). Topics covered include: pain relief, labour positions, relaxation techniques, birth rights and choices, caring for a newborn baby and breastfeeding. At the start of the session, the course leader will ask about any specific questions the group are looking to have answered by the course, this helps shape what you learn to your requirements.
When you apply for the course, you put in your baby’s due date and you get put into a group with other expectant parents whose babies are due at a similar time. This is important because it means you’re all going through a similar thing at a similar time.
Was the class worth the money?
In short, yes and this is why.
I’m not ashamed to say that for us, the main purpose of signing up to the classes was to make friends. We didn’t know anyone locally who was having a baby at the same time as us so it was important to connect with other parents to share the experience with. This was also why we wanted to do five shorter sessions rather than two longer ones – we thought it would be a better bonding experience than two hectic days.
We ended up in a really big group, there were nine couples including us – bigger than I was expecting. We met some really lovely people and it was heartening that everyone was a similar age. I was expecting to be a bit of an old Mum, but I’m not at all!
The actual learning about birth was really a secondary reason for doing the classes. We did learn some interesting things, and there were a few things I almost can’t believe I didn’t know before. For example, we covered all the different stages of labour – I thought it happened like it did on TV, with a dramatic gushing of your waters breaking and then lots of pushing. How wrong I was! I also enjoyed (if that’s the right word…) learning about my pain relief options.
Were there any downsides?
As I said above, we decided to pay for the classes to meet people, the information we learned was almost a bonus. But if you’re booking the class for a learning experience, then I definitely had some frustrations with what we were taught.
NCT do their best to not have an opinion about anything – I felt like a lot of times we asked our course leader a question, she didn’t really give an answer. Too many times we heard, “you’ll just know” and at the time we accepted that, expecting to be blessed with some magical parental intuition once our baby was here. And yes, we are very intuitive about Sebastian and often I do just know what he needs. But when it comes to things like working out how many layers of clothing he should be wearing based on the temperature / weather, then I’d like to get a clear answer. I don’t “just know” if Sebastian is too hot or cold and hey, guess what, he can’t tell me!
We were told before our class from other people who had done it that NCT are pro-breastfeeding and anti-epidural. Now I don’t actually have a problem with being pro-breastfeeding, in fact I think women need infinitely more support to breastfeed (post coming about that soon), but it is also helpful to teach about making the right choice and what to do if you cannot breastfeed. In terms of being anti-epidural, I don’t think I would have noticed a bias if I hadn’t been told to expect it. I’m not sure whether I agree the bias is there and in fact, I found the pros and cons of the pain relief really helpful.
The other huge downside for us was the location – we live in Gateshead and our nearest classes were Jarrow or Gosforth. We booked Gosforth because it was easier to get to after work, and it was easy enough during the class. However, now I’ve had my baby and I’ve not got a car, it’s actually really difficult to meet up with the other NCT Mums, who mostly live North of the river. It’s not easy to get there on public transport and I’ve found most of the other Mums go to classes together and meet up often, whereas I have had to make another set of friends South of the river to avoid being lonely and left out.
Was anything missing?
It’s another yes from me.
Things I’d like to have learnt about include:
- Options when breastfeeding doesn’t work
- A better understanding of what happens biologically to your body during childbirth (I learnt more about this from Shona, my hypnobirthing instructor instead)
- More detail about the induction process
- Special care and how premature babies are cared for
Would I recommend NCT antenatal classes?
They aren’t cheap, but finding new friends is priceless. It’s such a shame we can’t meet up with them more and it would definitely be different if we lived more locally to the other NCT families.
I would definitely recommend the class, but would also recommend reading up about it and seeing if it’s right for you.
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Thanks to Chloe Witty for the lush pictures.