Once the initial euphoria of being pregnant has subsided, it’s time for the real work to begin. Incredibly, over the next few months, your body will be working non-stop to create a new life, so it’s vital that you take good care of yourself to ensure your pregnancy and birth are as healthy as possible.
If you’re a first-time mum-to-be, you’re likely to have lots of questions – and several decisions to make. Where will you have the birth? What should you buy for the first few weeks of your baby’s life? And, not least, how do you care for a newborn?
Looking after yourself, learning about pregnancy and labour, and being as healthy as possible should be your priority over the next nine months. When it comes to learning from the experts, here’s what you need to know to decide which classes will help you on your journey.
One word of advice: spaces fill up quickly, so do your research early and book your place as soon as you decide which classes you want to attend…
NHS antenatal courses
Also known as parentcraft classes, NHS antenatal sessions will give you all the information you need to prepare for your labour and birth. Writing a birth plan takes into account your medical history and is where you record your wishes about where you give birth, who you want with you, pain relief, how you feel about interventions and what equipment you’d like (such as beanbags or a birthing pool). You may also meet some of the people who’ll look after you while you’re in labour.
What to expect: NHS antenatal classes include advice on how to stay healthy during pregnancy; the best foods to eat for you and your baby; emotions during pregnancy; exercises to keep you fit; and what to expect during labour and birth, including interventions such as forceps delivery, relaxation techniques and pain-relief options.
You’ll also learn how to care for and breastfeed your newborn. Classes start eight to 10 weeks before your baby is due (30-32 weeks). If you’re expecting twins, you can usually attend from week 24, as twins often come early.
Find a class: Speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor
WHAT'S MY ACTIVITY GOAL THIS WEEK?
This week, ask yourself:
Which days, at what time?
What type of activity?
Single session or short bursts today?
How will I reward myself?
NCT antenatal classes
Previously called the National Childbirth Trust, the NCT has been supporting parents for nearly 60 years. Trained and experienced practitioners run local antenatal courses to give you the information you need to prepare for the birth of your child. The two main courses offered are described below, but the charity also runs refresher sessions and workshops on subjects such as water births and being pregnant with twins.
The newest and most affordable NCT classes, these have been condensed to include the most important things you need to know, answer any questions you may have about your pregnancy, and prepare you for giving birth.
What to expect: The six-week course covers essential, easy-to-follow themes to guide you through the changes involved in becoming new parents. Topics include the development of your unborn baby; changes for you and your partner; your health and wellbeing; giving birth, including birthing positions and pain relief; caring for your new baby; and what people and services are there for you.
Cost: From £70
Find a class: www.nct.org.uk
If you have unusual circumstances, or are looking for a class that’s more suited to your specific needs, the evening/weekends Signature antenatal course (also run by the NCT) has a flexible structure that’s tailored to the needs of the small group taking part.
What to expect: The courses range from 14 to 21 hours, more than half of which focus on the actual birth. There’ll be lots of time for you to ask any questions that have been bothering you, and to share your hopes and anxieties in a safe, knowledgeable environment.
You’ll be able to build friendships with local parents-to-be, and develop a network of support for after the birth. You’ll also receive an exclusive personal information pack and a week-by-week pregnancy e-newsletter.
Cost: From £10 an hour
Find a class: www.nct.org.uk
'I CAME AWAY FEELING EXCITED'
‘At first, I was worried I’d find NCT classes a bit “establishment” but that wasn’t the case at all. There was plenty of space for people to make their own decisions about birthing and parenting.
‘The classes were great for me and my partner, and there were some lovely moments in the final session where we felt very connected – I’m much more confident that he’s going to be present with me during labour. I came away feeling excited and happy.’
Jen Rouse, East Sussex
'THE COURSE REALLY PREPARED ME'
‘We’re so grateful to our antenatal practitioners for all their wisdom and guidance. After the course, I feel so much more prepared for labour, as well as everything else related to our new life with our baby.’
Rachel Merry and Stuart Redbond, Essex
'MY BODY WAS READY FOR LABOUR'
‘I started yoga classes with Nadia six months into my pregnancy, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She taught me to connect with my body and baby – a difficult task, as my job was at its most stressful at the time. Nadia’s classes were satisfyingly strengthening and very relaxing, releasing tension, softening my body, helping to create space for my baby and preparing me for labour. I can’t express how important her classes were to me, and how they filled my pregnancy with positivity, guidance and empowerment.’
Elouise Markwell-Butler, London
The mindful breathing, gentle stretches and deep relaxation of a yoga class can be a wonderful way to support your pregnancy and prepare your body for labour. As well as helping to increase your muscle tone and flexibility, yoga can also reduce stress, boost energy and help relieve backache and fluid retention.
You can also learn tailored breathing exercises to help ease contractions during labour. It’s important that you attend a class led by someone qualified to teach pregnant women. Some poses, such as strong back bends or those that compress the abdomen or invert the legs, should be avoided. You also need to steer clear of hot yoga classes, where the room is heated to 40°C or more, as this can overheat your body.
What to expect: Each teacher offers something different. Pregnancy yoga expert Nadia Narain (www.triyoga.co.uk), for example, aims to create a supportive environment so women can draw on their inherent strength and innate softness to learn to nurture themselves and their baby during pregnancy and into motherhood. She believes that by feeling confident in their bodies and spirits, women will have more internal resources with which to make informed and conscious choices throughout their pregnancy and on the day of the birth.
At the Active Birth Centre (www.activebirthcentre.com), pregnancy yoga classes focus on breathing and relaxation in the postures, birth positions, partner work and support for pelvic or spinal problems. The main thing is to find a local teacher who you resonate with, and give it a try.
Cost: Varies by location; from £6 a class
Find a class: To find a pregnancy yoga class near you, visit the British Wheel of Yoga website at www.bwy.org.uk and enter your postcode
Classes let you prepare for birth and meet other new parents
Fit for birth
Pregnancy charity Tommy’s (www.tommys.org) advises you to try to exercise for 30 minutes a day, a minimum of four times a week. But this doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym or investing in a new exercise bike, and you can divide your daily exercise up into 10-minute slots if that suits you best. If you’re not very active, start with 15 minutes, three times a week, and build up gradually. Simple adjustments to your daily routine are an ideal place to start. Take a brisk walk to the shops, walk up the stairs instead of taking an escalator, or put on your favourite song and dance around the living room.
Walking, yoga, Pilates, cycling, swimming, gardening, gym sessions and gentle weight training are all suitable for pregnancy, but stay well hydrated and don’t let yourself get too hot. The talk test is an ideal way to make sure you don’t overdo it – simply make sure you’re able to speak in whole sentences. If you find you’re out of breath, ease off a bit. As your bump gets bigger, you may need to adapt your activities, and after 16 weeks, don’t lie on your back while exercising, as the weight of the baby can affect the blood supply to your heart. If you go to classes at the gym, always tell the instructor you’re pregnant so they can offer you modifications to ensure you stay safe.
For further advice, download Your Guide To Staying Active In Pregnancy from www.tommys.org/file/Exercise.pdf
Pregnancy charity Tommy’s (www.tommys.org) advises you to seek medical help if you experience any of the following symptoms while exercising…
Shortness of breath or dizziness
Chest pains or palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
Tightening in your abdomen
Pain around your tummy or pelvis
Fewer movements from your baby
Pain or swelling in your lower legs