Are all antenatal classes what they seem?
This is a question I read online recently and it got me thinking. Certainly some institutions ‘cater’ their classes to the services they provide: “This is what we do here and these are your options” – Seems reasonable right?
Some maternity units provide baths for pain relief in labour but require women to get out of the water for the actual birth, (apparently it’s an insurance thing). So are the many benefits of birth in water included in the antenatal education they provide? Probably not. Is that acceptable?
Antenatal education usually takes place in the 3rd trimester when the woman and her partner have already booked in to a maternity unit with their chosen model of care. It must be a disappointing time to discover you won’t be having that water birth you were hoping for.
There are many examples of this kind of bias or omission of information in modern antenatal education, although more subtle. And lets face it, there is just so much information out there, how do birthing women possibly cherry-pick the right information for their needs?
There are lots of benefits in a good antenatal program
Antenatal classes are really valuable and they play a huge role in helping women to feel more prepared for birth, in whatever form that takes. Research shows that when women feel safe, cared for and informed they perceive their labour to be better than if they are frightened and confused about what is happening and why doctors and midwives are doing certain things. Education and information facilitates the absence of fear because knowledge is power.
So back to the question, are antenatal classes designed to educate women into submission? I think it isn’t deliberate, but sometimes your choices are reduced by what you aren’t taught and not knowing the right questions to ask. You could say that some educators emphasise certain things because that’s what they believe in strongly and others will emphasise something else because that is their particular ‘thing’. The challenge is knowing what matches what you believe.
There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to pregnancy, birth and parenting. Individual maternity units are doing their best to cover as much information as possible to suit most of the people most of the time. And there are usually plenty of options depending on where you live and where you choose to birth. There are classes aimed at birthing twins, women having a booked caesarean section, classes for same sex couples and lots of non-English speaking options. There’s Calmbirth, Hypnobirth and private classes in the home, online classes and many more. Many of these will offer an excellent preparation for the birth of your child.
How do I know which antenatal class is best for me?
So, how can you find the information you need? How do you know if you are really informed enough?
We have put together this list of questions for you to ask yourself and your healthcare providers.
- What kind of birth do I envision for myself?
- What kind of education do I gravitate towards – i.e. a general overview of everything or using an actual specific technique like mindfulness etc.?
- Do I have special circumstances that mean my classes need to be more specific?
- Are there interventions that I will be advised to use or not use? Why?
- Does the service I’ve chosen to birth with have the options I’m looking for?
- If not, where else can I find it?
- Do any of my close friends have a good recommendation that fits what I think I might need?
The most important thing is to do your research and not just jump on the first thing that comes your way. Remember, you may have more choice than you think.
Good luck x