Ask Learner Mama #2: Do I need to go to antenatal classes?

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So I launched the Ask Learner Mama series and did deal with the important question of “Can I fly when pregnant?” before I got distracted by my new baby,  However I now have a back log of questions so getting things moving again I thought I had better more thoroughly address the question that was posed to me on Twitter which inspired me on to launch this series earlier this year.

The question was whether or not antenatal classes are important.  It is not easy to answer a question in 140 characters so here are some further thoughts of mine on the matter.

You could take it from two opposing angles:

1. Nothing is going to prepare you for birth and motherhood so you may as well just take each day as it comes and wing it.

2. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.  You should have yourself as prepared as possible for what to expect, how to manage and gather all the tips and advice you can by attending some sort of antenatal class.


On my first I enrolled in my maternity hospital classes. They were two hours long and ran for 6 weeks. That was 12 hours of preparation.

The first hour of each class was in the Physiotherapy Department and was all about the physical side of things; the stages of labour, breathing, relaxing and so on.  Exactly as I had imagined, we sat crossed legged on a mat and even got to lie down for a little relaxation (snooze) at the end of the hour.

We then headed over to a more classroom type environment for the parent craft section.  This dealt with more practical stuff like pain relief, post birth and baby care. So this was where the dolls were taken out and we were shown how to bath a baby, change a nappy and so on.  Of course it was all hands off, there was no practice.

When the time came 3 days before my due date and I was suddenly told I needed a C-section my 6 hours in the Physiotherapy department all seemed like a big waste of time.  I don’t remember them uttering the C-section word once.  What about stage 1 or stage 2 of labour? Suddenly I wanted to go back to class and ask all about C-sections.

Once baby was in my arms I realised that as much information as they gave us about feeding options, bathing a baby or changing a nappy doing it for real, on your own new baby, is terrifying. Period.  Breastfeeding didn’t come as naturally as I had thought and changing a nappy and bathing our baby seemed to become a two person operation in the early days.

Of course, with a bit of practice we settled into things and learnt the ropes “on the job” so to speak.

So, from my own point of view it is a good idea to go to some form of antenatal class but with a caveat that nothing is going to totally prepare you for what will actually transpire; good, bad or indifferent.

The question then arises where to go to do a course.  There are lots of antenatal classes on offer.  As I said I went to my maternity hospital course but here are lots of private antenatal instructors with varying options of day long courses, courses over multiple weeks or even private 1-1 sessions.

It really is a matter of choice so doing a bit of research is key.  A good starting point is asking your midwife/GP or hospital.  You could also ask other mothers who they might recommend, as word of mouth is a great way to find good quality courses.  Finally a bit of research on Google, including searching mum-to-be forum, can provide great information on what is available.

pregnant lady on laptop

Image courtesy of patrisyu at

If you are a working mum in Ireland you are entitled to time off work to attend one set of classes in accordance with section 8 of the Maternity Protection (Amendment) Act 2004.  Fathers also have a once-off right to paid time off to attend the 2 antenatal classes immediately before the birth.  Make sure to check with your workplace what entitlements you have for attendance at antenatal classes.

As a second and third time mum-to-be I didn’t bother with any specific ante-natal class.  In hindsight, given I was trying for a VBAC, I probably could have attended a birth specific class.  Nowadays there are options for VBAC preparation, hypnobirthing, C-section preparation and so on.  These type of courses might be useful if you are aiming for a particular birth preference especially if you feel you don’t need the early baby care information that is part of many antenatal standard courses.

At the end of the day, even though you will never be fully prepared for what birth or life as a new mum might throw at you, being as prepared as possible can only be a good thing.  So the answer to the question is you don’t NEED to attend antenatal classes, but in my view you should, at least once.


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