Saturday, 5 January 2013

Kirsty Allsopp vs. NCT Twitter Storm - From My Own Personal Perspective

Please Note: All views are my own opinions and not those of any organisations I represent.

Over the last couple of days, those of you following my twitter feed may have seen me getting involved in the debate regarding Kirsty Allsopp and her comments regarding the NCT (National Childbirth Trust). 

Following a discussion on Radio 4, Kirsty Allsopp tweeted

"NCT (sic) is a very politicised, dogmatic, and in my experience scary organisation."

In my opinion, in a couple of unevidenced, judgemental tweets, Kirsty Allsopp has managed to belittle and dismiss the last six years of my life.

When my daughter was born six years ago, I joined the local NCT. At the time, I didn't know anyone else my age who had a baby. We did antenatal classes which were very informative. We formed an NCT group, and I volunteered for the local branch. The branch were a great supportive group of people who willingly accepted me without asking what kind of birth I had or how I was feeding my baby. The local Breast Feeding Counsellors spent time with me helping me to breastfeed my baby after she had been given bottles in special care, the local volunteers took me under their wing and made me feel like part of the group. The NCT enhanced my early parenting experiences, and even though our small NCT class group no longer meets, I have made some friends through volunteering for the branch who I'm sure will be friends for life, and have gained new skills which have enabled me to volunteer for and chair other local charity groups and organisations, and grow personally and professionally over the last six years. I would not be the person I am today without the local NCT.

For the last three years, I have been studying a University Diploma / Foundation Degree in Antenatal Education to become an NCT Antenatal Teacher. Under the guidance of my tutor I have had to attend monthly tutorials, and numerous internal study days. I have had to complete 120 credits at Level 4 and 120 credits at level 5 - made up of thousands of hours of distance learning self-directed study, practical assessments, numerous essays and written pieces of work, and formal exams. I have also had to teach three Antenatal courses (42 hours of teaching). I have had to play an active role within my branch as a branch volunteer, and on a professional level, keep up to speed with what is happening in maternity on a local and national level through attending local meetings and forums with hospital staff, sitting on my local MSLC, and commenting on local maternity policies and protocols. Additionally I have attended many external study days and conferences to further my own professional development. I am also currently studying a university level 4 certificate to become an NCT Birth Companion - in between caring for my children, working, blogging, volunteering in several roles and everything else I do!

Having put all of this work, time and effort into becoming an NCT Antenatal teacher, and having sacrificed so much to do it, personally, I am offended that Kirsty Allsopp has made such disparaging remarks about NCT Antenatal Teachers with such little research by suggesting that NCT Teachers:

1) Have a hidden agenda which includes being only pro natural birth and breastfeeding,
2) Do not meet the needs of their clients and do not cover all kinds of birth,
3) Do not support clients who have not had a 'natural' birth.

I am also surprised that she thinks the general public would be better off attending antenatal classes run by profit-making organisations who recruit unqualified teachers, or teachers who have to attend in-house "training" which in absolutely no way comes close to my university accredited, assessed and extremely comprehensive NCT training. (Click here for more information on Choosing Antenatal Classes)

As far as I'm aware, Kirsty has never been involved in the NCT in any capacity. She has never attended classes, and has never attended branch events - so I am not sure how she can feel qualified to make any comment on an organisation she has no personal experience of?

What I do know is that two years ago, when Kirsty had a new project to promote, she took to twitter to create a storm against the NCT claiming that the NCT did not support women who had Caesarean Births, interspersed with advertising her latest projects. President Sue Saxey sent her a personal letter inviting her to meet with Sue personally, and to feedback on how she felt that the NCT could support women who had experienced a Caesarean Birth. 

Kirsty Allsopp, NEVER REPLIED.

Once again, Kirsty's most recent storm of tweets against the NCT which has gained her more followers and press, is set against the background of her promoting her latest project.

Coincidence?? I think not......

Although Kirsty's special brand of misplaced fear and judgemental tweets have conveyed lots of negative remarks against the NCT, she has not retweeted any of the positive opinions which can be found if you read through the feed for NCT tweets.

Regarding supporting parents at Classes, this is what NCT CEO Belinda Phipps had to say:

"NCT Antenatal Courses cover all the topics that are relevant to expectant and new parents, including giving birth by caesarean section and pain management. One of the reasons our courses are attended by more than 160,000 parents each year is the content of the course is also influenced by the expressed needs and wants of the small groups attending. Results of extensive evaluation of our services shows that NCT courses dramatically increase both women's and men's confidence about birth and that the vast majority of first-time mothers and fathers felt that their course provided evidence-based information from a reliable source. Our research also showed that over 90% of first-time mothers and fathers felt their needs were met by the course and would recommend it to other parents."

From my own lengthy first-hand experiences of teaching and volunteering for the NCT, this is what I know to be true information about NCT teachers and classes, and NCT as an organisation:

  • NCT Practitioners are well qualified to teach Antenatal, Postnatal, and Breastfeeding sessions. They train for around three years for their University accredited Diploma/Foundation Degree in Antenatal/Postnatal/Breastfeeding Education.
  • NCT Practitioner's spend time debriefing their own births and agendas so that they can offer unbiased, evidenced-based information to clients.
  • NCT Antenatal Courses should be covering all kinds of births - including Assisted and Caesarean births - My classes include possible birth interventions and information on all kinds of pain-relief and births. My classes also cover practical and emotional aspects of late pregnancy, labour, birth and early parenting.
  • My qualification has ensured that all quotes/statistics/information I give in my classes are researched and evidence based. Health Professionals may present different evidence, but it's often assumed that as an NCT teacher, I am wrong, rather than entertaining the possibility that my research could be the most up-to-date and correct. 
  • Not all NCT classes and teachers are the same. Just as within the education sector, all teacher's have different styles of teaching. Additionally, no two groups of course attendees are the same. Classes are tailored to the needs of each individual group and in most cases, it is the group who sets the agenda rather than the teacher and I give information on everything the group want to know either through class discussion, practical work, handouts, or links to Internet articles.
  • Not all NCT course formats will produce the same results or equip parents as well. Parents may favour weekend formats as its more convenient to get their antenatal course done within two days and outside of work times, however research shows that groups bond better, and clients remember and retain more through attending either days or evenings once or twice a week for 6-8 weeks rather than cramming 14 hours of learning and knowledge into one weekend.
  • There have been comments on twitter saying that their NCT classes didn't cover x, y and z. Although I fully acknowledge that in some instances some teacher's may not have covered what clients had hoped for, I know in my courses that I have had clients come back to me at reunion's and say we didn't cover "x" when I know full well that we did. It just may be that clients do not attend a session and so miss information, or they may switch off during sessions as they think that a topic may not be relevant to them, and then wish that they had known about it during labour.
  • NCT Teacher's don't typically cover bottle feeding and no - it's not because we are the Breastfeeding Gestapo or we wish to shun those who choose to bottle feed. NCT Practitioner's are asked to adhere to the World Health Organisation's Code on the Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes.  It's not that we don't want to cover Bottle Feeding in our classes, it's just that we are adhering to the code - just like formula companies who do not advertise formula for baby's under 6 months are, or as the supermarket's who do not offer discounts on Infant Formula pre 6 months are. 
  • Although most women and men who attend classes are white middle classes in their 30's and 40's, the NCT welcomes all parents and it's reach includes all ethnic groups and ages. Specialised courses supported by local funding have also provided NCT classes for young parents, men only classes, and classes for parents with distinct ethnic and socio-economic needs. Parents who are eligible for certain benefits can book NCT courses for just £10.
  • Unlike other organisations, NCT are not a profit-making organisation. All membership fees go to cover the costs of running a charity and training volunteers and practitioners. All courses either run at a break-even or a loss.
  • As an NCT Teacher, I promote straightforward birth for those who want it, not straightforward birth at any cost.
  • It is often quite easy for parents to blame the NCT for their bad birth or loss of expectation, but as far as I'm aware, most NCT teacher's are not present during their client's births. Even though you can prepare and prepare parents with the best information, at the end of the day, the parent's are the ones making the choices, and I always give my clients the information to make the most informed choices. However, during reunions, often I hear..
  •  "Well we wanted to (x/y/z) but then the doctor said (insert advice here) and so we agreed as he said not doing so may harm the baby" - Even though we had spent time discussing about finding out all of the information and repercussions about procedures before having them...
  • "Well, we wanted to go to the birth centre, but then we just wanted the baby out and so we agreed to an induction as soon as possible and we somehow ended up with an assisted birth as we didn't know you had to be induced on the delivery suite". In my classes I share with clients how in many units, having an artificially induced labour means that you cannot go to the birth centre, and you are statistically more likely to have an epidural and an assisted birth. However, often pressure to get the baby out from family, friends, peers, and personal preference supercedes those conversations you had two weeks ago in antenatal classes - but clients may not see it that way.
  • "Well we tried to stay at home as long as possible but my partner just wanted me at the hospital as he didn't like me making noise during contractions, and then I got scared in the hospital, and my labour wasn't progressing fast enough so I ended up on a drip, with an epidural, and then was monitored and so had to lie down, and then I had to have a Caesarean Birth to save the baby's life and you didn't tell me that this was what would happen". It must have slipped your mind - all that time I spent during the course talking about how staying at home in a relaxed place as long as possible will help during early labour, as will remaining upright, in open positions, and reminding you how recumbent positions affect your ability to push...
  • Regarding all of the scenario's above, I am not saying that the Client's were in the wrong, or that I was in the wrong. However, some clients may wonder why they did not get the birth they had hoped for, but if they sat back and thought about it, they would probably discover it was down to the opinions of a staff member during labour, or a decision they themselves made during labour - despite me having plugged away at all of the information. It's very easy to take in information at a class when you are feeling relaxed and in a logical frame of mind, but during labour, all logic and sense can go out of the window and so people may end up making choices they would not typically make because they are not thinking rationally. They then spend time post-birth trying to rationalise their birth experiences when they are thinking logically again, and come to the conclusion that the only answer must be that they were set up for a bad birth experience by their NCT teacher who told them that straightforward birth is possible (and in 95% of cases it is - if women are able to labour using their own innate ability to birth their baby rather than relying on a machine to tell them when they are having a contraction or if/when they should push). Personally, I know that's what happened in my first birth. I was all set up for a natural, amazing birth, but down to decisions I consented to, I ended up with an assisted birth and a baby in special care. I couldn't make sense of my birth in the baby's first years, and I blamed people, but through doing my course, and learning a lot more about labour and birth, I know realise exactly where that first birth experience went wrong (isn't hindsight a wonderful thing!)
  • Parent's may blame their NCT teacher for scuppering their hopes and dreams for birth, when teacher's may just be trying to help them to be realistic about their expectations. Different units/hospitals excel in different things. Lets say for example a couple have their heart set on having a water birth at Unit "A". I have visited Unit "A" and know that the MLU has only just opened, the unit is not very pro normality, and many of the midwives are not trained in water birth or they do not feel confident attending a water birth. They have also told me that due to understaffing, only two couples have had water births in the two months since they have been open. The couple have visited Unit A, saw the pools there, and saw that they did water birth's on their website. They have then booked at their midwifery appointments to have their baby at Unit "A" as it is close to their house and close for all of the relatives to visit. They attend their NCT classes a few weeks later and I tell them that actually, the above is what I have heard about Unit "A".... I then tell them that the only way they could absolutely guarantee their waterbirth is by having a pool at home. I also tell them that Unit "B" on the other side of town deals with hundreds of water births each year, and has midwives who are all trained and confident in waterbirth. Therefore if they have their heart absolutely set on a waterbirth, Unit B may be a better option for them, although it will not necessarily guarantee them a pool if they are already busy. The couple have their baby at Unit A, and do not get their waterbirth. When they contact me, they accuse me of being biased towards homebirth and preferring hospital B over hospital A. They say that I did not support their choices, and so, that is why they didn't get the birth that they wanted. Perhaps, in an extreme case, they even lodge a complaint against me. All I would have been trying to do would show them the best, realistic options for the kind of birth they wanted, but they would say I did not get them the "perfect" birth they were hoping for, even though they made the choice to go to Unit A, despite my giving them other options and information. This situation is only theoretical, but from the teacher's perspective, this is the kind of rationale that teacher's are faced with.
  • NCT Practitioners not only teach NCT classes. Many of them teach NHS classes and in children's centres. They sit on MSLC's, work alongside health professionals, help recruit midwifery students, attend meetings with hospital boards to comment on local policy and protocols, and in many cases, work closely with the hospitals and units in their area so that they have a good picture of what is happening on a local level. Although Practitioners are paid for classes, they do a lot more work in local maternity in their free time which is unpaid so that they can keep up to date with the latest local knowledge.
  • All NCT Practitioner's are assessed and audited regularly by NCT Assessors and Tutors. 
 During this whole twitter storm, on twitter and through comments in articles on newspaper websites, many comments and tweets have started with the words " I have never done NCT classes but I have heard..." " I have no experience of NCT classes but...." "Although I have never attended NCT classes or branch events, a friend told me........" Unfortunately, it seems that these people are happy to share their opinions which are detrimental to the NCT based on hear-say and Chinese whispers.

If you have had a bad experience with NCT then I do not wish to make light of your bad experiences or suggest that your feelings of anger or resentment towards NCT are not valid. If you felt that your teacher did not cover birth adequately in classes then I completely recognise your experiences as not good enough. If you felt that the branch did not do enough to support you then I can completely sympathise that not all branch volunteers may be following the NCT "party" line of supporting parents to be the parent they want to be. I would suggest that you email and share your bad experiences so that hopefully these negative things are not repeated in the future and NCT as an organisation or as individual branches or teachers can reflect on these bad experiences, and learn what can be done in the future to improve services. I always welcome feedback in my classes and feedback is how you learn and how you grow. 

However, please also consider that sometimes it could be that perceived "NCT opinions" could actually be individual opinions which have manifested and may have been interpreted as "NCT opinions". It's important to differentiate between the opinion and agenda's of individuals, vs the opinion's and policies of the NCT organisation as a whole. A branch volunteer who is pro homebirth and breastfeeding could be seen to suggest that NCT is anti Caesarean birth and bottle feeding, when rather, it is simply the opinion of that individual. If you think (as some on twitter have suggested) that NCT did not support you because your partner did not have the "right job" or your "house wasn't big enough" - well that may be more down to individual NCT class attendees or volunteers in the area you live in, rather than the NCT organisation as a whole. In all of your bad (and good) experiences, how many of you have actually heard the phrase "The NCT Says...." inferring that you are being given the opinion of an organisation, rather than "I think", or "In my opinion.." which is the opinion of an individual.

In my classes I aim to empower my clients with the confidence to make informed decisions based on evidenced based research and information. Through all of this backlash against the NCT, I would ask you to do the same.

(and Kirsty, If you are reading this, please come to an NCT class, or attend a branch event and find out what the NCT is Really all about!)


  1. You forgot that anyone can arrange to pay for classes by instalments even if they don't qualify for a discount.

    What irks me is that people assume that NCT is just about the classes and it's not. Pretty much all of its charitable aims are delivered through branches and branch events, which many course attendees ignore. Meeting other new parents at classes is great, but what if you don't get on with some of them? There are other events like bumps and babies or coffee morning/stay and plays where you can meet other parents, make friends and share experiences.

    Like you, NCT has been a big part of my life since becoming a parent and will remain so. It is NOTHING like how Kirstie Allsopp portrays it. (Oh and her youngest is 4 now, so even if she spoke with someone at NCT when she was expecting number 2, it has very likely changed in recent years.

    PS Remember how Kirstie Allsopp ranted about HIPs and how awful they were? She soon shut up about it when they turned out to be not so bad after all. She does have a reputation for going off on one about things and sadly, because of her profile, she gets noticed.

  2. PS I know they eventually abandoned HIPs.



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