Thursday 21 June 2012

How to Choose Antenatal Classes

This article was first published on The Vegetarian Experience on 13th March 2012

Earlier this week, I read this article on Choosing Antenatal Classes and felt that I would like to add some comments to the article written. I grappled with whether to confront the issue of choosing antenatal classes head on, but after some thought, I decided that parents-to-be should be informed about what their choices are when choosing antenatal classes. To set the scene, I am currently studying a university-accredited qualification to become an Antenatal teacher. 

After three years of training, I can tell you that not all Antenatal teachers receive the high quality of education that I have been lucky to receive and so not all Antenatal classes are offering the same standards of education as each other. People have often been surprised that my course has been so long and in-depth, but only by receiving a well-rounded, quality education based on evidence and best practice, are teachers able to effectively offer a good basis for teaching Antenatal Education for parents to be.

Why Book Antenatal Classes?
According to an NCT report called "Preparing for Birth and Parenthood" (2011), the most common reason that couples book antenatal classes (and in particular NCT classes) are to meet other new parents, prepare for becoming a parent and to get evidence based information about pregnancy, birth and early parenting. Many parents would cite the friends they met at antenatal groups 5,10 and 15 years ago as amongst their closest friends now, and many more pay testament to how important the peer support they received from each other was in the early days of new parenting. 

What to consider when Choosing Antenatal Classes:
When choosing antenatal classes, as well as taking into account the class format, timings, cost and other practical considerations, it is also important to consider and find out about the training that your teacher has undertaken. Under current UK legislation there is no requirement for Antenatal Educator's to hold any qualifications or insurance and anyone can issue an Antenatal Educator with a licence to practice Antenatal Education.  However, Would you want to attend a class run by someone with no qualifications or insurance? FEDANT (Federation of Antenatal Educators) exists so that the public are able to find out about classes which have FEDANT approval and classes which don't. However, once again be warned that having FEDANT approval does not necessarily mean that your teacher will have received any formal training or a university-accredited education. It may just mean that they will have undertaken some training and will hold insurance. Members of the public are able to search the FEDANT website for antenatal educators and see which, if any, qualifications they have listed.

What are the pitfalls of choosing Antenatal Classes where teachers have not undertaken formal, university accredited training?
  • As antenatal educators are often people who have become parents themselves, an important element of training is debriefing their own birth experiences so that they do not pass on any issues surrounding their birth to others through their teaching. Generally, well trained  antenatal educators are not encouraged to divulge information about their own birth experiences to their clients as these experiences have no relevance to the clients they are working with and divulging them could be seen to sway clients one way or the other. Antenatal Teachers/Facilitator's who have not completed formal training may often talk about their own experiences during class and may give their opinions about options such as pain relief instead of helping parents to form their own opinions.
Well trained antenatal teachers should have:
  • Spent countless hours learning how to facilitate groups and how to use various different means to help the bonding process of a group to happen, in the hope that they will be a support to each other postnatally. 
  • Be aware of the language they use around parents to be and how the use of language can affect the group.
  • Spent lots of time researching their local hospitals and have made links with staff there. They may also sit on MSLC's and other governing bodies.
  • Spent time researching and considering how to offer antenatal education to diverse groups of people, including for example teen parents, non-British parents, gay parents, and those with extra learning needs.
  • Have explored how to support parents who may suffer a traumatic birth or a birth that did not meet their expectations. They will also have considered supporting parents through the loss of a baby.
  • Spent many hours in tutorials with other students, discussing best practice and practicing their teaching and facilitation skills, reflecting on and working with feedback given by peers.
  • Antenatal teachers who have studied a formal course will have learnt what constitutes and how to access well researched evidence based information. They will have learnt where to go for the most up to date, well researched information and so they will be employing teaching methods based on solid, well researched evidence and will be up to date with local policies and best practice in their local hospitals. Often those without formal training may not.
  • Part of university accredited study involves teaching as a student, so after completing the first formal level of training and sitting an exam, students will teach three courses under the guidance of their tutor and will have formally evaluated these sessions. They should also have learnt about best practice, how to teach clients safely and also how to read clients behaviour for any underlying postnatal issues or pregnancy conditions which clients may not be aware of. This is learnt over a long period of time and cannot be taught in a matter of weeks or months.
Which Antenatal Classes are on on Offer? 

Free Classes
The NHS run free Antenatal Classes in most areas, often run by a midwife/health visitor or sometimes even an NCT practitioner. Health professionals (Midwives/Health Visitors/GP's etc) will typically have undertaken a University degree, and have gained lots of experience through their practice and teaching, and so they are well positioned to deliver effective antenatal education. However, sometimes, NHS classes may not give the same information as private antenatal classes as often the midwives may be teaching under the hospital's agendas and policies, which may not always be apparent in the classes. Children's Centre's may also offer free antenatal classes.

Private Antenatal Classes
There are many organisations offering private Antenatal Education and all may typically seem equal to new parents trying to negotiate the minefield of pregnany education. There are lots of different classes offered focusing on different parts of antenatal educations. However, not all private antenatal classes are equal and not all antenatal teachers are equal. Teachers who have gained a university accredited qualification are well placed to teach antenatal classes. They may be teaching through an organisation such as the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), or they may have earned a qualification through organisations such as the NCT or Childbirth International and be teaching independently.  NCT Antenatal Classes are taught by well trained practitioners who have undertaken university accredited study, often to foundation degree or degree level. NCT teachers all participate in ongoing professional development and their licence to practice is reviewed on a regular basis. In my opinion, parents would be best to choose a class where the person teaching has undertaken a university-accredited, recognised qualification.

Of late, new Antenatal Class franchises have sprung up on the internet. With snazzy marketing and good social media and SEO skills, instead of concentrating on offering quality, evidence based education, they have concentrated on helping their antenatal classes creep up the Google rankings so that they can offer themselves as an equal choice to antenatal teachers with university qualifications. Imagine the scene if you start training for a university qualification in antenatal education, attend a few tutorials, but then decide that you don't really want to train anymore as it will take too long. So you set up your own antenatal education company with no formal qualifications yourself, and develop a six month training programme. You then begin a vigorous marketing and social media campaign, get some franchisees, then sit back and watch the money roll in as unsuspecting parents-to-be pay for classes taught by teachers who have paid you to equip them with the skills they need for teaching - only you have no qualifications in antenatal teaching yourself! Some franchises offer a six month very part time training period to their teachers and then send them out into the big wide world to make money by exploiting parents to be and with the aim of lining the pockets of their founder. This may sounds harsh, but it is the reality. Some people running private antenatal classes will have received no training at all and will be basing their programme purely on the fact that they themselves are parents already. I am not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, as long as parents are aware of how these classes differ.

Finally, parents booking antenatal classes should also consider where their money is going to. Is the class they are attending a free NHS class? Is the money being paid to a charity who run their classes to break even rather than make a profit?, or is their money going to an individual/franchise who is looking to profit from parents and is not equipped with effective qualifications to teach?

The most important thing to remember about private Antenatal Classes is that they do not all offer the same quality of teaching. Of course in the current climate there will be excellent, well trained, university accredited teachers running public and private classes for charities and for themselves (antenatal teachers still have to make money to live after all!) but parents should be aware, and find out exactly how qualified their teacher is so that they can make an informed choice about which classes to attend.

For those worried about cost. some private antenatal course, like the NCT, offer courses for £10 for those on low incomes. There is also an option to pay by instalments for those paying the full price.

Antenatal Class formats exist for ALL new parents to be - be they Male or Female. Although classes do exist exclusively for new mothers, classes also exist for partners (be they the father to be, the woman's partner, or a close friend or family member).

Preparing for the birth of your baby and the transition to parenthood is a pivotal time in your life, so whatever tuition you choose to undertake, savour ever moment that you can of this special time in your life.

Disclaimer: All views and opinions in this piece are my own and are not the views of any organisations I am associated with.  


  1. Very good, balanced and informative piece of writing. Thank you.

  2. Interesting. I am strongly considering undertaking the NCT course. I am currently looking at other course which are cheaper and shorter but I am becoming more convinced that the NCT is the one to undertake.



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