Well obviously, I'm biased here, but the simple answer is do both if you're unsure but read on to find out why you should consider investing in an antenatal course that isn't taught by your hospital.
There are so many antenatal courses to choose from locally, St Neots and Cambridgeshire in general are very lucky! It's important you like the style of the person teaching you, there is so much birth information, labour support techniques and birth plan choices to learn about, if you can, organise a 'Meet the teacher' chat before you commit!
What words do you associate with birth?
This is the first question I ask at the beginning of every antenatal course I teach. I doubt St Neots is unique in the answers I receive- bloody, scary, painful, long, anxious, frightening, dramatic, there are usually a few positives thrown in, but most thoughts point towards a negative impression of birth. Where do we get these perceptions from?
The media often paint birth as a dramatic event of waters breaking followed by immediate contractions and a birthing person laid on their back, legs spread wide, screaming between breath holding and episodes of ‘purple pushing’. Birth programmes have become increasingly popular, but do they do more harm than good?
The births that are ‘trouble free’ are uneventful, calm – not saying pain free here, but relaxed, supported, the less dramatic births… do you think those births are picked for the final edits?
We build fear into people through these programmes, normalising the ‘watching’ of birth, the clinical environment, short staffed midwifery teams, the registrar and consultants, the routine vaginal examinations and almost always, shots of supine births, we create the subconscious thoughts that this is ‘normal’ birth… and it is not.
Why do preconception of birth matter?
I find it very difficult to listen to negative birth stories without asking for more background, birth in itself is rather uneventful, when left to its own devices, more often than not those stories can be worked back to some sort of outside intervention, pressures from terms such as ‘failure to progress’ whilst strapped to a bed for monitoring and asked not to move, things we know slow/stop the natural progression of birth. Induction of labour is becoming routine, despite guidance recommending it is only used in cases of medical necessity. Frequent 'checks', interruptions and lack of support during 'normal' progression of labour often cause the cascade of overused, unnecessary interventions that in turn may lead to very necessary lifesaving interventions.
Being informed is vital, understanding that there is a difference between how the midwifery team would like to look after you, and how hospital guidelines, short staffing and out of date processes allow them to.
Hospital guidance is based on ‘best practice’ not ‘in your best interests’. We would like to say that these terms are in line, but they simply are not.
"“Birth should be a natural event that occasionally needs medical help, not a medical event that occasionally happens naturally.”– Kemi Johnson
Why do maternity guidelines matter?
Best practice minimises the chances of hospitals losing a liability case in court, it’s about box ticking and evidence gathering in case of a lawsuit.
Best interest requires evidence-based support, and individualised care plans. This means true physiological labour, no continuous monitoring, freedom to move, unrestricted food/drink and a truly hands off, uninterrupted approach, and that makes people nervous!
Your midwife entered their profession with ‘best interest’ as their intentions, of that I have no doubt, but our severely underfunded, understaffed, an outdated policies leave them bogged down in paperwork, running between enormous numbers of birthing / postnatal people and required to offer you a checklist style ‘best practice’ even when knowing it is not evidence based, or in your best interest, to protect the hospital and therefore themselves, from legal liability, and that’s why you ned to take control of you birth, become informed and learn how to support your body and mind through a physiological birth, understanding that your ‘best interests’ may well fall well outside their desired ‘best practice’ approach.
I feel strongly that hospital courses, do not give a fair, unbiased overview of physiological birth, but rather of one which conforms to the guidelines.
“Prenatal classes offered to nulliparous women in our maternity care units are brief and medically oriented, whereas many private paid classes focus on the woman’s inner strength, nonmedical ways of pain relief, relaxation, and making labour an empowering experience. In earlier studies, birth preparedness has been associated with higher satisfaction, improvement, of women’s sense of control and confidence in giving birth” - Childbirth experience in induced labour; a prospective study using a validated childbirth questionnaire (CEQ) with a focus on the first birth Katariina Place ET AL 2022
When should you book onto an antenatal course?
Ideally a traditional antenatal course should be scheduled to finish around 37-38 weeks gestation. You can of course complete antenatal education earlier if you want to but it's important to keep going over any handouts you may have or to keep researching your options, so everything feels fresh for the big day.
Consider you may need to reserve your space on a private antenatal course well in advance! If you're booking onto one of my St Neots Sensible antenatal courses, you'll need to reserve your space around 3 months before it is due to start to secure a space as these sell out fast.
Hypnobirthing or pregnancy yoga/relaxation courses can be started much earlier, most from 12 weeks gestation and I'd recommend continuing all the way to baby's birth! These birth preparation groups are focused on positive mindset and work through building muscle memory for an active birth, and confidence through deep relaxation techniques, all of which require practice, the more the better!
Mother Wit & Movement is my pregnancy yoga/hypnobirthing offering and you'll need to book that one around 6-8 weeks in advance of the course start date.
Check out all my pregnancy classes here, including online antenatal courses for those outside of my catchment area!