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Many women/couples, especially those expecting their first baby, book to attend childbirth preparation classes.

Childbirth preparation classes can be helpful if this will be either parent’s first baby or if you are hoping to feel better prepared and more actively involved in decision-making during your labour and birth than you were during your previous birth/s.

It is a good idea to book into Birth and Parenting Preparation Courses before you are 20 weeks pregnant. Most providers aim to have women and their partners start attending classes when they are approximately 28 – 30 weeks pregnant and finish before they are full term i.e. 37 – 38 weeks pregnant.

There are several different sorts of Childbirth Preparation Courses available.

The most commonly available courses are 12 – 14 hours long and usually consist of 6 – 7 evening sessions. Some providers offer Saturday morning classes or even compressed courses that are held over a single weekend.

Free Classes

Most District Health Boards (DHBs) provide a limited number of free courses. Some of these courses are held in hospital facilities and some DHBs contract out courses to other organizations to run in various locations throughout the communities they serve. These free courses get fully booked very early. If you are wanting to attend a free course you will need to book before you are 20 weeks pregnant.

In Auckland MAMA is contracted by the Auckland DHB and the Waitemata DHB to provide free classes in Ellerslie, St Lukes, Mt Roskill, Titirangi, Henderson, Kumeu, Sunnynook/Mairangi Bay and Red Beach.

For information about MAMA’s FREE and User-pays Birth and Parenting Preparation courses in Auckland click here.

Birthcare (www.birthcare.co.nz) is also contracted by the Auckland District Health Board to provide free antenatal classes in various locations.

Waitemata District Health Board runs free classes at both North Shore Hospital and Waitakere Hospital – phone 09 486 8920 ext 3048.

Counties Manukau District Health Board subcontracts to three organizations to provide free classes in various locations in South Auckland:

1. SAMCL in various locations except Franklin – phone 279 3377

2. Turuki Healthcare in Mangere – phone 275 5788.

Other Classes

Most classes are not DHB funded so parents are required to pay a course fee.

Parents Centre are the biggest provider of Birth and Parenting education courses in NZ/Aotearoa. For more information about Parents Centre Courses and where these are located go to www.parentscentre.org.nz

Self-employed Childbirth Educators

There are a number of different organizations that train Childbirth Educators and each of these has a slightly different approach to preparing women and their partners for labour and birth.

What do these courses teach?

Most Childbirth Preparation Courses aim to help prepare parents for labour and birth and the early weeks of parenting and cover topics related to late pregnancy, labour and birth and early parenting:

  • Pregnancy discomforts – which are common and which are warning signs
  • Signs and symptoms of the onset of labour
  • Role of the LMC in late pregnancy, labour and birth and the first 4- 6 weeks postnatally
  • The process of labour – what happens during the first, second and third stage of labour
  • Labour coping skills
  • Role of father/support person during labour
  • Informed choice and consent for medical care
  • Medical Pain relief
  • Medical interventions into the labouring process
  • The first hour after birth
  • Initiating and establishing breastfeeding*
  • The mother’s body after the birth
  • The early days at home with your baby – postnatal changes and adjustment for mothers, fathers, couples and babies.
  • Basic parentcraft – clothing, bathing etc.
  • The needs of new babies – helping them to sleep, responding to their crying etc
  • Safe sleep and Cot Death Prevention
  • Postnatal Depression
  • Well Child care and forming a support group

*DHBs and some parenting organizations are signatories to the UNICEF “Baby Friendly Initiative” convention which specifically prohibits DHB staff and contractors from discussing feeding babies anything other than human breastmilk in a group situation, so bottlefeeding artificial infant milk formulas is not covered in most courses


There is insufficient time in most courses to cover this many topics in depth. The aim of Childbirth Education is to raise new parents’ awareness about topics relating to birth and parenting, to give some baseline information and to remind them of the practical, learning, communication and decision-making skills they have that will help with the changes and challenges of pregnancy, birth and parenting.


Some Childbirth Preparation Courses focus on particular techniques in preparation for labour and birth e.g.

  • Active Birth www.activebirthcentre.com
  • Calm Birth www.calmbirth.org.nz
  • Hypnobirthing www.positivebirths.co.nz
  • www.mindmagic.co.nz
  • www.headfirsthypnosis.co.nz
  • www.joyfulchildbirth.co.nz
  • Classes, Retreats & workshops    www.bellamama.co.nz
  • “Organic” Birth Preparation – Understanding the secrets of natural Labour  - A single session in Albany> For information and bookings http://www.organicbirth.co.nz/Seminar.html

Potential benefits of attending childbirth preparation classes

You and your husband/partner/support person have an opportunity to learn about the process of labour and birth and some parenting skills together.

Childbirth Preparation classes complement the information you get from your LMC during your pregnancy check-ups. Classes should provide you with information and allow you time to ask questions that will expand your understanding of labour and birth and parenting a newborn baby. They should also assist you to make informed choices about your care during pregnancy labour and birth and the early weeks after you’ve given birth.

You have the opportunity to ask questions that you either forget to ask your LMC or there isn’t time to cover at your pregnancy check-ups.

Your husband/partner gets information about the process and the role of a partner in labour and father without having to plough through the mountain of books you have on the bedside table.

You meet with other pregnant parents and can form new friendships and support groups with people who are also experiencing the joys and challenges of pregnancy and parenting.

Choosing an Antenatal Course

Although many courses cover the same topics, the way that these are presented will be different depending on the beliefs and style of the Childbirth Educator who is teaching them.

Beliefs about Birth and Parenting

You should ask the organization running the course or the childbirth educator teaching the course about the beliefs underpinning the information that will be provided in the course.

Some courses will prepare you for how birth is usually managed in your area; others aim to assist women/parents to experience birth with the minimum of medical assistance. Some will prepare you and your partner to be active participants in decision-making during labour and birth and when you are parenting, encouraging you to pick and choose from the information provided and adapt it to meet your needs, while others will support you to accept the recommendations of your Lead Maternity Carer. If you’ve already made choices about how you’d ideally like to give birth, especially if you’ve decided to give birth at home, you need to make sure that the childbirth educator will be able to provide you with accurate information that will support your choices.

You should decide what information you need and try to find a class that will provide this information e.g. there is no point in going to a class that focuses on teaching labour coping skills if you are planning to have an epidural as soon as you arrive in hospital or an elective caesarean section.

Similarly there is no point in attending a class that teaches parenting from a belief in attachment theory (www.centreforattachment.com) if you plan to train your baby to eat and sleep in a routine.

Other Considerations

Recommendations

Many people attend classes that are recommended by their Lead Maternity Carer or friends and family members. It can be a good idea to talk to your LMC or somebody who has recently attended a course to get an idea about the style and content of locally available courses. Ask your LMCs which classes s/he recommends and why.

Location

It can be a good idea to attend a course that is held as close to where you live as possible. One of the important benefits of attending antenatal classes is to meet other parents in your area whose babies are due at around the same time as yours is.

Cost

In NZ/Aotearoa the government via the District Health Boards currently provides enough funding for 30% of parents to attend a free birth and parenting preparation course. You will need to pay to attend any other courses. The fee for some e.g. Parents Centre, includes membership of this organization and access to the other services they provide.

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