Now that our baby has passed the newborn months my husband and I have had more time to reflect on the experiences we had in late pregnancy and childbirth. One of the things we discussed was our experience of our chosen antenatal course. Unfortunately we believe there are many things about it that need improving.

I will not mention the name of the course provider we used as I do not wish to ‘name and shame’. As it is a national provider, my experience may also be unrepresentative. However, it seems my views are shared with a fair few other parents that have attended these very popular courses.

The positives

First I will start with some of the positives to attending an antenatal course in general.

Meeting other parents-to-be

This one is a big positive and has meant that I don’t regret attending a course. We met some fantastic other new parents. We now we have some lovely friends in the local area in exactly the same boat. Our course included lots of (sometimes cringey!) group activities. After a few weeks we had built some great friendships, set up a Whatsapp group and were ready to support one another through one of the greatest of life’s journeys. I loved that the mums were often grouped separately from the dads. It prevented us from clinging to our partners and helped the guys to bond as well as the women.

Bonding with my partner

The evenings at our course provided a really special time to be with my husband – away from the TV, work and other distractions. We were encouraged to focus 100% on the pregnancy and the new life we were making. This was so important to me, especially as other parts of my life were pretty stressful in the late stages of our pregnancy.

Loving pregnancy!

These two positives to be honest could have been achieved for free!

There are other little positives in there like learning about the female anatomy and the timing of contractions. However, on the whole, I learned nothing that I couldn’t Google!

The negatives

Unrealistic expectations of birth

One thing that my new group of friends agree on is that the course we attended was incredibly optimistic. In many ways this was lovely but we were also wholly unprepared for a less-than-perfect birthing experience. There I was fairy lights in hand, whale song on my phone ready for this beautiful zen-like oxytocin-inducing experience unaware of the painful, lengthy and quite dangerous labour that lay before me!

While I understand that the course provider didn’t wish to scare us, more information on ‘when it doesn’t go to plan’ would have been incredibly helpful. A 5 minute activity with Sylvanian Families didn’t quite cut it for those who had a caesarian. I felt guilt and shame for needing a suction cup to deliver my baby (after 3 hours of pushing). The fear of God put on me about various medication left me choosing gas and air for 29 hours when perhaps I should have accepted more pain relief.

Much of what we were told on the course was sadly unscientific. We were led to believe the baby pretty much birthed itself, cleverly getting into the perfect position before calmly entering the world – again a little fluffy for my liking. The episiotomy scars many of us have would say otherwise!

No mention of special care

Not only was childbirth described to be beautiful and easy, the course also failed to mention (or at least not in any detail) the instance where a baby might need special care. I assumed (naively I guess) that full-term babies simply didn’t need intensive care when born. My husband and I look back and laugh about how we hoped our baby would be born in the morning so we could head home that day! We certainly didn’t foresee the days in the NICU that followed our overdue baby’s birth.

Speaking to my auntie, she was surprised to hear that the NICU is still barely mentioned on this particular course. Just a heads-up may have helped me feel more reassured when doctors told us our baby would need intensive care. Instead, my reaction was pure horror. Again, just like difficult births, special care for babies is incredibly common and normal. At least half of my antenatal group had babies needing either special or intensive care, despite none being premature.

Breastfeeding

We had one session on breastfeeding during our course. Many parts of it were quite useful. However, yet again, we were confronted with just the best-case scenario. We were told the babies would simply crawl up from the vagina they have just squeezed their own way out of and latch straight on to the breast! HA! I am afraid to say that for the vast majority (of my admittedly small sample size) this is just not true.

The course left me feeling that formula feeding was a choice and “the wrong choice” at that. I was so adamant that I would establish breastfeeding that I never bought formula, bottles or a breast pump. As I explain in a previous blog post, I ultimately became an exclusive expresser and pumped milk for my baby until very recently. Only thanks to my husband’s decisiveness and my eventual acceptance, were we able to get what we needed before our discharge.

Important baby care

At the start of the course, each of us was asked what main thing we wanted to learn. Nearly everyone wanted to know how to care for a baby, yet this made up one very short part of the course which was overwhelmingly based on the (ideal) labour.

In terms of baby care we were taught very obvious things like how to put on a nappy. We were also shown baby slings and carriers but expected to work them out for ourselves. Worst of all we were not corrected when we put the carriers on wrong. It was months before we began to follow the TICKS guidelines and ‘wore’ our baby correctly.

Since starting to wean our baby at 6 months, one thing we have really missed knowing is paediatric first aid. It would have been handy to have just a short (not certificated) session on first aid. Knowing how to respond quickly to choking or allergic reactions would be invaluable.

The take-home

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are brilliant courses out there. Perhaps some of the best are the less-known, more tailored options. My best friend, for example, is becoming an antenatal teacher and I know for sure she will be fantastic. She is incredibly positive about birth but also realistic and understanding of the many choices parents can make and the varied outcomes labour and pregnancy can have. All I ask is that you shop around carefully before parting with your (dwindling!) money on an antenatal course. Thank goodness for the friends we made or else I am afraid the course we attended might have been a total waste of money.

What are your experiences? Do you recommend a particular course? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!