The Questionable Joy of NCT Antenatal Classes or Ignorance is Bliss

Pregnant: 39 weeks + 2 days
Status: Fat. Ungainly. Tired. Up-to-date with all recent TV programmes. Compulsively knitting.

How it all began

The father of my unborn was, after he had spoken to some know-it-all people, recent parents I think, adamant that I should attend an antenatal class. He insisted on how good it would be for me to meet some other women in the same situation and that I would have other yummy mummies to hang out with after my baby is born. (Which I interpreted as having some other women to talk baby stuff with and not annoy him with details about the ‘birth story’, the infant’s digestion or breast-feeding problems).

I protested and I protested more. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrible than sitting in a room with a group of other misshapen females complaining about pregnancy ailments with a tree hugging NCT midwife telling us a lot of biased rubbish about home birth, evil pain medication, homeopathy, the joy of washable nappies and similar topics (pregnancy yoga had already been more than enough for me).  But of course father in spe knew better and lecture was followed by lecture.

Finally, worn down, I looked up NCT antental classes in our area.  For all readers outside the UK and people who don’t have children yet – NCT stands for National Childbirth Trust  and is the UK’s biggest charity for parents.  Classes (5 evenings) cost a mere £350 – a lot of money just to meet some other pregnant ladies I have to say…

Sweet Revenge

When I realised that you can’t even book these antenatal classes for one person and that your partner joining you is absolutely required (poor single mothers out there!), I smiled a devious smile.  I decided that it would be very good for my boyfriend to meet men in a similar situation to him and that he clearly would be thrilled to hear everything there was to know about different stages of labour and all the unpleasant details that come with it. Oh sweet revenge! So there we go, NCT class booked and I just couldn’t wait to spend 5 evenings from 6 to 9:30 listening to a lot of things I never wanted to know.  Faking illness, impending labour and prenatal depression didn’t help, my boyfriend just didn’t know any mercy.  ‘Now we have paid’, he said, ‘now we go!’

The NCT Class

Retrospectively, I have to say that it could have been worse.  Sarah, the midwife who held the classes was pleasantly down to earth and surprisingly objective, in addition to having a hilarious dry sense of humour.  Believe me, humour is what you need when you stare at diagrams showing a biiiiig baby head in the process of coming out of a very small opening. Even though I am a doctor and have learned medical basics about birth and babies during my time at university, nothing could have prepared me for the grisly details of the birth process.  Is ignorance bliss? I may think so…

Honestly?

There were only a few moments when I felt slightly irritated, one of them was the recommendation of homeopathy during pregnancy and birth.  As a firm believer in evidence based medicine, I know that homeopathy has never been shown to be superior to a placebo.  Apparently raspberry leaf tea helps to induce labour (Yeah right!) and acupuncture would really persuade your baby if it’s in breech position.  And there was all this advice about crawling on the floor, I can’t remember what this was for, but my boyfriend still thinks that I should definitely do it for his entertainment (bastard he is!)  But as I said, a very small amount of rubbish only.

There was one moment though my boyfriend almost walked out and this was when the discussion turned to what babies can hear while they are still in utero. Sarah suggested that the dads-to-be may want to read a goodnight story to the mum’s belly so that the baby gets used to the dad’s voice.  While I found this to be a rather good idea as it would absolutely make my day, my boyfriend thought otherwise. Not even my suggestion that he could read the Herald Tribune or, if he really wants, porn to the little one could placate him.

Breastfeeding – as portrayed by NCT

For the session on breast-feeding, another lady came in to teach us everything about the benefits of mother’s milk and that we were basically harming our offspring should we, for whatever reason, not breast-feed.  She also spammed me with emails on this topic, I felt like falling victim to a religious extremist!  I disliked her so much for her militant views and I am sure that a lot of mothers-to-be that had a session with her and then would not manage to breast feed, would blame themselves terribly for failing and not doing the best for their children.  She suggested by the way that we should breast feed until the child is six. Well…

Even though breast milk may be superior to formula milk, I honestly don’t think that it makes a huge amount of difference. I’ve been breastfed only for a few weeks and I have developed normally and am hardly ever ill. In fact almost no-one was breastfeeding their babes in the UK during the late 1960/ early 1970, and as far as I can tell these poor adults, so maltreated as babies, seem to be doing pretty well today…

As a conclusion, we did meet some very lovely people at the NCT class and we even had a couple of outings – imagine a table of 7 heavily pregnant ladies (drinking water) with their scared partners (drinking spirits like water) sharing their bliss, fears and sorrows interrupted by pee breaks in 10 minutes intervals. Pregnancy not a disease? You must be joking!

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8 Responses to The Questionable Joy of NCT Antenatal Classes or Ignorance is Bliss

  1. KateQ says:

    I’ve just started my NCT classes (just had the one so far) and am unsure whether to keep going. I found it all a bit pointless and it was actually making me more anxious sitting around chatting with other people that also didn’t really know what to expect.

    I signed up hesitantly because I was told I MUST meet new mums in the area but now I’ve got the e-mail addresses I might just cop out – especially as my husband is so busy at work I’m going to have to go it alone to the following 4 classes.

    • Ute says:

      @KateQ – I totally sympathise with you! I really didn’t need to know all these gory details about giving birth, and there are people who enjoy sharing with strangers and others who prefer to be on there own/with some good friends (I belong into category 2 as well). And going there alone is just not nice at all! When are you due? I found the last class on what to do once the baby is here the most useful and nice I have to say. If you want to go to one more class, do this one.

  2. KateQ says:

    I’m due mid-February. That is good advice – any kind of science background (I’m a research scientist) makes it really difficult to take the anecdotal advice seriously. Hopefully if I miss a couple of classes I’ll still be able to make these friends that everyone says I will need so much!

    • Ute says:

      @Kate – I know! And then they are all discussing herbal remedies and crawling on the floor in all seriousness and you have to hold back not to tell them what utter rubbish this all is. (want to make friends, not enemies right 😉 Are you based in London? If yes, you should be in touch once you got the baby and we do our own little baby group 🙂 x

  3. Wasn’t keen on ante natal classes either!! Don’t get me started on bfeeding pressure! Check out a site I created to help girls like us- evidence based and full of sensible advice for sensible women! http://doctoranddaughter.co.uk/

    • Ute says:

      @Thepregnadillo -I have just had a close look at your site, very informative and clear, very refreshing to read something that is not full of old wives’ tales! There should be antenatal classes for sensible people, which would also mean that you would meet like-minded couples. I think this is a real market niche!

  4. pipalipa says:

    I signed up for NCT classes hoping to make some friends in an area we had just moved to, and expecting to get some information about giving birth as an added bonus. I had heard that these classes could be quite biased so was prepared to take the information with a grain of salt and an open mind, however it turned out I didn’t have to.

    Our ‘teacher’ and the breastfeeding adviser who took us for one session were both practical and informative, giving us both sides of every story and down-to-earth advice which included advising against reusable nappies because of the faff, and acknowledging that it is impossible to tell who was and wasn’t breastfed as we all turn out alright either way.

    The practical information provided and subsequent discussions helped me make informed decisions throughout my pregnancy and birth.While some of the information given was quite daunting and could have been deemed unnecessarily scary for already apprehensive pregnant women, between the six of us we had three inductions, forceps, the vacuum suction machine whose name I can’t remember, two emergency caesareans, used the whole gamut of drugs available (from gas and air to epidurals), and had one very serious post-birth complication involving the new mother being taken to hospital in an ambulance. Without the information given during the sessions I am sure that these already frightening situations would have been even more terrifying. For example, I can’t imagine how it would feel to be rushed to the operating theatre and suddenly surrounded by a dozen medics (and no husband) without knowing that this number of medical professionals in the theatre is perfectly normal for a caesarean.

    I am sure every class is different and everyone has individual experiences. I do not normally take the time to comment on public blogs, but I thought it was important to point out that there are more positive experiences of NCT out there. Plus, I have five wonderful new friends helping keep me sane in the crazy new world of maternity!

    • Ute says:

      @PipaLipa – Thank you so much for your comment, I also think it’s very important to have different kinds of views on a topic as important as antenatal classes. Your comment nicely summarizes what we, mothers-to-be, want from an antenatal class, and this is INFORMATION. The midwives and teachers should leave their personal convictions and ideas out and not judge. If you are a mother who wants home birth or an elective Cesarian, you should have the feeling you can discuss this without being frowned upon. While the midwife who held 4 of my classes was mostly very good, the breastfeeding person was just a disaster.
      Instead of teaching us what to do if breastfeeding wouldn’t work – good alternatives for example, she tried to convince us that there is no other way than breastfeeding which is just ridiculous and puts unnecessary pressure on women in an already stressful situation.
      I’m really glad your experience was so good and I am sure that there are a lot of excellent NCT teachers out there, it’s just a bit of a pot luck and NCT should be much more careful in choosing their teachers! I hope you have a lot of fun with your baby 🙂

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