Should I do NCT antenatal classes?
We had our daughter in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – and the pingdemic – in July 2021. This meant that it was even harder than usual to connect with other expectant parents. I was not vaccinated against COVID-19, as I fell into the cohort of pregnant people in the UK who were advised not to have the vaccine, due to the lack of available safety data.
We were worried about navigating the long journey of parenthood alone, and so, having deliberated at length, we buckled up and shelled out the £260 to attend the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) Antenatal Course. Many many of our friends and family had told us this was a great way of meeting like-minded parents to be. Due to restrictions and guidance around the COVID-19 pandemic, our classes were held on Zoom, across two weekday evenings and two Saturdays, giving a total of 17 hours.
Would we recommend attending the course? Five months on, and we aren’t sure.
Our NCT course: The good
We liked a number of aspects of the course:
1. Meeting other expectant parents. We met a group of expectant parents, all of whom were having babies within a month of us. This made us feel part of a group at a very anxious and lonely time.
2. Labour and birth education. We learned about labour and birth processes and options. We had completed free NHS antenal classes which included this information, but having time and space to discuss labour and birth was useful.
3. Breastfeeding counsellor. Completing the course gave us access to a breastfeeding counsellor, and highlighted the NCT infant feeding line to us. Both of these have helped us with small and large queries, and we have found them invaluable. I still contact our breastfeeding counsellor with queries via WhatsApp now, as she shared her number.
Our NCT course: The bad
There were several aspects of attending the course that we didn’t like:
1. Demographic bias. The course was attended by a certain type of person, so it was a bit like sitting in a room of clones, albeit virtually. The group was overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, and of a similar age bracket; 5/7 men in the group worked in identikit jobs; and 4/7 women shared a first name.
2. Unrealistic birth bias. The course heavily promoted unmedicated and unassisted birth, without explaining that this was not a typical experience, and did not match birth data from our local midwife teams. This kind of birth was not experienced by any of the seven couples in our group.
Many of the women in the group therefore spoke about feelings of failure when they had inductions, pain relief, instrumental births, or c-sections. One of our group cried when she needed an epidural.
3. Gender support bias. We found the group less supportive for men than for women. The men’s WhatsApp group went completely silent after the babies were born, and remains largely silent five months later.
4. Limited course time for newborn care. The course covered newborn basics only very briefly. Of seventeen hours of the course, care of a newborn baby took the final hour only. This meant my husband was taught to put a nappy on a baby by the midwife who had helped us to deliver our daughter.
Our NCT course: The ugly
There were several aspects of the course that we hated, and would be the reasons we would not recommend the course.
1. Sexism. We found the course set-up sexist, and found this unhelpful to our experience and learning. When our tutor asked the group to do introductions, she requested that the man in each couple introduce both of the couple. This set a very odd tone from the beginning of the course, and meant that the women were not given space to speak until half way through the first session.
The course tutor also split up men and women into seperate groups for different discussions a number of times. This felt at odds with the way my husband and I take stuff on, which is as a team. Due to this splitting up, the men were taught about post-natal mental health and how to identify issues in women, whilst the women were not; and the women were taught about female body changes after birth and sex after birth, whilst the men were not.
2. Unrelated sales pitches. Our course tutor ran her own non-NCT antenatal classes and services, and heavily promoted these before, during, and after the course. She promoted these to us via email, WhatsApp message, and in person. We found this unwelcome and really inappropriate.
3. Zoom delivery of the course. We did not really make friends on the course. In part, this is likely to be down to chance, and whether you meet people you ‘click’ with on the course. However, we think this is also likely to be due to the course format: Zoom does not lend itself well to bonding over small talk, or side-eyes.
Overall, we were probably pleased we did the NCT antenatal course – it meant we met other new parents at a tricky time. A number of things were not quite as we hoped, but if we hadn’t attended we would have been left wondering if we’d missed something spectacular.
I’d love to hear about you!
Did you attend NCT antenatal classes? How did you find them?