Antenatal Classes: Preparing for Labour, Birth & Early Parenthood
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‘What are antenatal classes and do I really need them?’ is a question that many pregnant women ask. The time from conceiving leading up to delivery and the first few weeks afterwards are filled with new experiences and challenges. Parents have many doubts and fears ranging from ‘will a spinal epidural be painful’ to ‘how do I position my hands to pick my baby up from his/her bed’. Antenatal classes help parents-to-be prepare for this time with answers, checklists, exercise programs and frequently, a support system that makes parenthood a time of joy and accomplishment.
What Are Antenatal-Classes?
Antenatal or prenatal classes help you prepare for childbirth and teach you how to look after and feed your baby. These classes help you to stay healthy, confident and well informed during your pregnancy and the period following that as well. You are walked through each step that can be expected for the next few months. You learn about the available labour and birth options and formulate a birth plan for yourself. These classes also teach exercises and breathing techniques to help you through labour. Not only does a prenatal class help partners learn how to deal with changes and brief them about coping mechanisms but also help make new friends with other moms and dads who are also expecting the arrival of their bub soon. This helps parents not feel isolated and have experiences to share with someone who is also perhaps going through the same situations.
Prenatal classes cover the physical and emotional preparation for labour and childbirth. Pregnant women and their labour partners attend sessions that focus on ways to make their pregnancy happier and less chaotic. These classes generally cover
- Exercise, yoga, and breathing techniques to maintain flexibility and build up stamina.
- Formulating a diet and an eating plan which optimises weight gain and good nutrition.
- Information about eating do’s and don’ts during pregnancy.
- Using music and relaxation techniques to deal with the fears of childbirth and parenthood.
- Bonding with your baby with music and reading.
- Learning tried and tested simple home remedies for common problems like acid reflux, back pain and mood swings.
- Partners are coached on how they can support their spouse by talking through issues, staying calm and staying organised.
Labour classes focus on calming both parents-to-be. This is achieved by talking through their fears and counselling them towards birth plans which accommodate these concerns and stress management is also emphasised upon. These classes also include group and practical sessions that help mothers-to-be feel less isolated, while their labour partner learns to be supportive and calm. These group sessions are usually informal and fun to help mothers-to-be bond with their partners and other parents. These bonds often help parents through the highs and lows of the first few months with a baby. The sessions step them through the following:
- Recognising the stages of labour, and the requirements at each stage
- Pain management options during labour and delivery, and the pros and cons of each system
- Breathing techniques to manage pain during labour
Parenting classes (post childbirth) are conducted by professionals who give information and answer questions on topics like nutrition, lactation, breastfeeding, infant care and parenting. First-time parents can find the sleep deficit, health emergencies and partial confinement to a home post childbirth difficult and challenging. These sessions try to de-stress parents regarding these situations with practical information on the basics of baby care and building team work between spouses. The topics covered are:
- Breastfeeding basics, its importance, how to breastfeed properly and handling common breastfeeding issues.
- Practicals on changing nappies, carrying, swaddling the baby.
- Bathing and massaging a newborn.
- Open discussions where parents-to-be air their fears. Professionals talk people through all these concerns and encourage them to discuss their concerns to prepare themselves mentally.
Do I Need Prenatal or Antenatal Classes?
You may opt to give these classes a try if you feel that the time and resources involved will contribute to your happiness and peace of mind in the near future. Any parent-to-be who faces the thought of giving birth or taking home a new family member with trepidation should go to pre and antenatal classes. The classes allay the fears and flood of misleading information that can contribute to stress, panic and bad decision making during the crucial months following childbirth and also during pregnancy.
Why Are Antenatal Classes Needed?
Many first time parents, busy professionals and people from nuclear families have apprehensions about childbirth and childrearing. Antenatal classes for couples are needed because they address such fears and help with correct information, planning and a support system.
Who Can Go to Antenatal Classes
Women in their 28th to 30th week of pregnancy, partners interested in accompanying them and capable of playing an important role, experienced parents who feel the need for a ‘refresher’ course, pregnant women in their early trimesters who feel the need to be better informed- can all benefit by attending these classes.
Benefits of Antenatal Classes
Being calm and patient during pregnancy is very important for your and your little one’s health. Antenatal classes benefit moms-to-be by helping them achieve this state of calmness through coaching and counselling regarding every stage they will be going through. Apart from addressing their fears and preparing for the new journey ahead, these classes also emphasize on physical and social well being.
As discussed, antenatal classes range from dealing with prenatal stress to coping with post-childbirth situations. They prepare moms and their partners for all the new anticipating changes that come along with a baby. However, broadly speaking these issues can be segregated into categories. Samples of commonly covered subjects in these are:
Pregnancy woes of the 2nd & 3rd trimester
- What can you expect: physical changes, changes in lifestyle and circumstances.
- Sexual changes (sexual drive) during late childbearing and parenting. Your relationship and hormonal changes.
- Old wives tales or truth: coping with the flood of myths and realities associated with this time.
- Packing a labour bag: what goes into it.
Food, health and weight gain during pregnancy and afterwards
- Foods to be taken and avoided during pregnancy
- Creating a pregnancy diet for yourself: healthy eating during pregnancy
- Foods that help while breastfeeding
Exercise and relaxation
- Benefits of Prenatal Fitness, warm-up session to stretch your spine, arms and legs
- Breathing techniques, basic exercises and massage techniques during labour
- Core and pelvic floor exercises
- Relaxation techniques
Childbirth and after
- Recognising the signs and stages of labour.
- The partner’s role – tips and techniques for them to help out and be a positive influence.
- Introduction to breastfeeding from birth to the first few weeks.
Types of Antenatal Classes
Antenatal classes cater to various categories of people – antenatal classes for couples, antenatal classes for pregnant women only, classes for those in their first trimester, labour classes, breastfeeding classes, natural childbirth methodologies, classes emphasizing psychological aspects of childbirth and parenting. Some classes cover all these topics, while others focus on specific areas. It is good to make a checklist of your primary motivation for taking the class and narrow down on the one correct and suitable for you.
Best Time to Start Antenatal Classes
When should you start taking antenatal classes is a question that confounds many. The best time to begin antenatal-classes is 8–10 weeks before the baby’s due date when you are 30 to 32 weeks pregnant so that the information remains fresh in your mind as you approach your D-Day.
Sign up for an antenatal class by yourself or with your partner or close friend, and be well-prepared to welcome your baby into the world.