NCT Antenatal classes – a service you only become aware of once you are expecting.
The NCT or National Childbirth Trust is an organisation with a long history of supporting women through pregnancy, birth, infant feeding and early parenting. Its roots lie in enabling women to have more natural straightforward births, but the fundamental purposes are to enable women and their partners to make informed decisions when preparing for birth and to provide a mechanism for getting support.
Less than one month ago, before the world turned upside down, I was one of around 800 practitioners carefully setting up my teaching venue ready for my 2.5 hour face to face antenatal class with my current group of expectant parents. Tuesday 10th March was pretty much like any other session. We covered caeasarean birth for the first hour, practiced massage and breathing, had the coffee break- always love to see the clients chatting- then finished off with all things sleep related.
The next day I wasn’t feeling great; a very mild cough and generally tired, but l went about my other work as a copywriter. News of the spread of COVID19 was gathering pace by this stage. I began wondering whether the rest of the course would be possible face to face. By Thursday, I was coughing more and decided I should self-isolate. I set about finding another teacher to take my session the following Tuesday. In the meantime, the staff at NCT sent out a survey to find out which practitioners would be willing to facilitate classes online. I jumped at the chance.
Pivoting my NCT antenatal classes
On Friday, another practitioner said she would take my class for me, so I contacted the group to offer them face to face with her or online with me. They chose online. So, over the weekend, I re-worked my last two sessions for online delivery and learnt how to use the Zoom platform.
Feeling a little nervous as 7pm approached on the Tuesday, I sat down at my PC with my cuppa in hand to revolutionise my classes. My clients were so so happy to see me, it was touching. Many of them had already experience some distancing from their other professionals in healthcare. Of course, as l write this now (4 April), we know that that has necessarily had to increase massively. The client feedback was great. They were delighted that we didn’t simply give up on them. But don’t take my word for it. You can see what 2 of them really thought.
Downturn in support
NHS antenatal classes and hospital tours are all suspended leaving thousands of women without antenatal education. Antenatal appointments and scans are still happening but partners cannot attend. Women in labour are allowed their birth partner but once they are transferred to the postnatal ward, the partner must leave and only come back when it’s time for the woman to be discharged. Community midwife visits are now just one on day 5 to do the newborn bloodspot screening instead of the first day home from hospital and every 2-3 days after that. Support for pregnant women and their partners has dwindled considerably due to COVID19. (This is correct for most units as of 3 April, but the situation is changing rapidly)
However, the NCT is ramping up its support. The vast majority of my colleagues have moved their antenatal courses online and are delivering hundreds of sessions to expectant parents every week. We are the ones bringing some semblance of normality to some very scared women right now. Pregnancy, especially your first one, is an anxious period at the best of times. And these are most definitely not the best of times. Women are having to cope with so much without the usual support structure in place.
What hasn’t changed
NCT antenatal classes have always been about empowerment. Empowering parents to have more control over the birth they want. Right now, choices are more limited than ever and, as practitioners, we are uniquely placed to help parents navigate through the possibilities and disappointments.
We will continue to ensure women know that they still have rights during birth, despite COVID19 and we will encourage them to continue to ask questions and explore all the available options to make the best choice for them. What we can do now, which the NHS cannot, is help parents to feel connected. NCT is often criticised for being “an expensive way to make friends” – never before has it been so important to have a group to be connected to. But I would always dispute this criticism regardless of the social circumstances because we provide so much more.
NCT antenatal classes offer:
High quality evidence based information
Delivered by highly qualified and trained practitioners
Tailored uniquely to the needs of each group
Able to pivot rapidly to meet changing circumstances
With an overwhelming focus on providing support
To all parents from all backgrounds
This is what NCT practitioners are proud to provide and we are a diverse group providing support and information from early pregnancy via our Yoga for Pregnancy classes all the way through to parenting with our Early Days courses and Introduction to Solids workshops. The full range of NCT services covers mum, partner and baby through pregnancy, labour, feeding and early parenting in a way that no other organisation does.
What now for antenatal classes?
The NCT has always been under attack from people who do not understand well enough that support is our overriding driver, but never more so than right now. Sadly, parents who had booked onto courses over the coming months have been cancelling. They booked because they wanted to get connection with other parents and they maybe feel that they wouldn’t get that now that they won’t be face to face.
To those parents and any others considering their options for antenatal education I say, you WILL get that connection. In fact, you will get a much much tighter connection that you would have done if we hadn’t been living through this pandemic. People are craving connection. You only have to look at the increase in the use of video conferencing technologies to see that we want to be part of something bigger.
So, trust us, the organisation who holds dear in our hearts, every pregnant woman, every anxious birth partner, every beautiful new life.
Trust us to deliver what you expected and have paid for. Do not desert us for we will not desert you.
To book or re-book an NCT antenatal course, go online at www.nct.org.uk/courses
Find out more about NCT classes
This article was written by Michelle Eshkeri, antenatal teacher in North London.