An antenatal class in Meaux, France. (Photo by BSIP/UIG/ Getty Images)

What I wish my antenatal class really talked about

Antenatal classes can be a wonderful resource for new parents. They’re mostly run by volunteers and they generally cover what you need to know – but sometimes what’s covered is less useful than the chance to meet other new parents. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes asked parents to tell her what they wish they’d heard in these classes.

Almost six years on from my first, and only, antenatal class it’s hard to think what, if anything, I actually learned. But I got something far more important from those classes than a lesson in how to change a nappy. I became friends with three incredible women. Women I am still friends with to this day.

The four of us have had second children and one of us is onto her third (I suspect it will be the only third baby in our group!). I love these women and that’s why I recommend antenatal classes to every pregnant person I see. Having someone to share your fears with, having someone to lean on, having someone to sit with in those early days when all you can do is drink cold coffee and stare at each other astonished that your world has changed just so very much – that’s vital.

I don’t know how I’d have gotten through the horrible hospital admissions and surgeries without my dear antenatal group.

So again, I recommend it for everyone – if not an antenatal group, a coffee group, or a Plunket group. Anything that helps you connect with mothers who have babies who are the same age. I do think there was probably some things we covered in the group that we didn’t need to, or things we missed out that would have helped. So in that spirit here’s some new mums on what they wished they’d been told and what could have been left out. Everything is anonymous because people on the internet are often fucking dickheads.

Babies

“I wish I’d been told that being a mum is seriously fucking brutal and relentless and there are bits about it that you might hate.”

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“I felt like the worst mother in the world because nobody told me that it can be so mind fumblingly shit and boring sometimes. I LOVE my baby – loved my baby – but I missed talking to other humans. I didn’t know that all babies do is eat, shit and sleep. I wanted to know that.”

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“I wish we had been told about THE WITCHING HOUR. How is it possible that most babies cry for no reason for 1-5 hours every evening and I’d never heard of this?! ”

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“I wish my class had talked about maternal mental health and how to look after a baby! I remember asking if we could talk about this, and the tutor laughed wildly and said, ‘Ah, the fourth trimester!’ and that was just about it.  It would have been much more useful to have had practical advice (like the kind Sarah Bell Booth, the psychologist gave in her Spinoff Parents piece) than to be told repeatedly that labour would be hard because it’s a body coming out of another body.”

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“We did learn how to put nappies on plastic dolls, but, duh. Real babies are so mobile! Maybe antenatal classes should ask ‘graduate’ mother and baby groups to visit for at least one session and give expectant parents some real contact with the amazing variety of babies? And show them how to dress living wrigglers! I think even if you’ve had lots of contact with babies before, the reality is much starker once you’re pregnant – and it would have been good to have had a refresher!”

*

“What we got: “So all you need to do, and this is the key, is get your newborn on a two hour routine: Half hour feed, half hour play, one hour sleep. Stick to this routine and you will be all good. The problem is parents who deviate from the routine.”

Us: ‘Heck yes we love routines and plans and certainty! We will not deviate.’

Baby: ‘LOL’

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“I put his nappies on backwards for the first five days and we didn’t even think to dress him until day three when the nurses were like “Um, are you planning on putting clothes on him?”

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“How do you wash a baby’s penis? I still don’t know. [Editor: I believe a baby’s penis is self-washing – you just need to soak it a bit?]”

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“I’m so glad they told us about the black poo. My partner had missed that and he almost shit himself when he saw it. I was very happy to be able to tell him it was normal.”

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“I wish they’d told me how to take a shit after birth.”

Read The Spinoff Parents guide to taking a shit after birth.

Breastfeeding

“I wish they hadn’t taught me not to breastfeed to sleep because it made me feel guilty for the 18 months I did it.”

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“Why don’t they tell you breastfeeding hurts? Everyone says “It doesn’t hurt if you’re doing it right” but every mother I know, and my own experience, tells me that’s bullshit. It does hurt until it eventually doesn’t. Or sometimes it hurts forever so you stop. But it hurts for everyone for a bit.”

*

“I was terrified of co-sleeping because of my antenatal class. I ended up almost having a breakdown because I stayed up all night sitting up feeding. I wish they’d told me how to safely breastfeed and get sleep.”

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“I wish they had put less emphasis on having impeccable breastfeeding posture. Honestly half a class was like ‘never take a pillow with you anywhere, it creates bad breastfeeding habits, you’re doing it wrong if you can’t feed baby comfortably in a bus stop for two hours without an arm rest.’ Then I got a c-section and lived in a pillow nest for two months.”

*

“I wish they’d told me to watch out for RSI or OOS or whatever they’re calling it these days, when your body performs one action over and over for eternity until it burns and burns but you can’t stop because patting/breastfeeding/rocking.”

*

“I wish my antenatal class had covered how to breastfeed lying down, how to breastfeed in a baby carrier, how to breastfeed while reclining on couch cushions like a Victorian lady, how to breastfeed while writing a novel and cooking dinner and answering the door. I really wish they’d covered the safest ways to co-sleep because it is difficult to research that stuff when it’s 3am and you’re so exhausted you don’t know how to read sentences anymore and the baby keeps randomly pooing on you. And I really, really wish they’d covered some of what happens if you have a premature baby. Including what happens if you have a 35 weeker who doesn’t need to go in an incubator but does need extra help with feeding and stuff because I had one and literally every other person I knew had big late babies and it felt like being dumped on another planet without oxygen.”

*

“I wish they’d told me how many babies come early and how you will be supported if they do. It would be good to have the Neonatal Trust come in.”

Read about what it’s like to have a premature baby.

Formula

“I wish we’d been told that NZ formula is safe.”

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“They never talked about bottles and how to clean them. That’s important information.”

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“They said some dumb shit about formula – about how they can’t talk about it. I called the hospital and was told ‘of course they can talk about it!’ and the lovely on-call midwife gave me a fantastic run-down of how it all works. I ended up being able to breastfeed but I appreciated the information.”

*

“We were told about types of formula and that every standard formula is pretty much the same. We were told that when they say things like ‘Gold’ it doesn’t mean anything and you’re safe with all formula sold in supermarkets and you can buy the cheapest one. That was so great to hear. I wasn’t able to breastfeed and it helped so much!”

Read The Spinoff Parents guide to choosing formula.

Support

‘I wish they had said just do whatever it takes to get through, and you’ve got this.”

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“It’d be cool if the focus was on empowering us – our session was very much about nappies and baths and how not to hurt your child when you dress them. I think I would have liked to hear from other mums about what helped them and what got them through on the hard days.”

*

“I didn’t know it isn’t normal to feel scared and anxious all the time with your baby. We talked a little about PND but nothing about anxiety. It took me a long, long time to realise it’s not healthy to have this level of fear. It was only then I got help.”

*

‘I wish they’d shared the Fuck Off I’m Grateful post. I felt like a shit mum until I read that.”

Read about what it can be like to have perinatal anxiety or depression here.

Partners and support people

“Our antenatal classes were actually pretty fantastic but in those last few days of pregnancy and first few after birth I was so tired and spacey that I struggled to remember things that they had taught us clearly. I remember the first time I needed to feed our daughter staring at her bewilderedly thinking “What on earth do I do now!” And my husband piped in with:”You know love – nose to nipple.” I stared at him blankly thinking “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!” He remembered (in detail!) what I was too tired to recall. And it was lifesaving in that moment.

“So before you go to your antenatal classes, talk with your partner or support person about the importance of them being engaged and attentive in the classes, even to things that might not seem directly relevant to their role. There will be times when you’ll need them to be your memory when you just can’t.”

*

“I wish they’d warned us that partners aren’t allowed to stay on the ward if they’re male. I was horrified when my husband got sent home an hour after our baby was born. I was still bleeding and I was terrified. I was in pain and we’d just had a baby and we weren’t allowed to be together. My husband told me much later that he cried in the lift when he left. He barely got to hold his baby – they didn’t care about him being able to bond with the baby.”

*

“I was so glad they told my support person about the hormones on the third day. I was a wreck and she remembered and told me “It’s OK! Remember what the lady said!” It made everything better and then I ate a whole packet of Tim Tams.”

Birth

“I wish they’d told me about birth trauma. They talked about c-sections and how bad epidurals apparently are – but they didn’t tell us what to do if we almost die. I know they can’t scare mothers but I felt like I had nobody helping me through. Even if they talked about counsellors or what resources are available, that would have helped. They talked for hours about water as pain relief but didn’t say anything about the protocol if you are put to sleep so your baby can be taken out. I was terrified and I think if I’d known what the process was that would have helped me.”

Read about birth trauma here.

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“Instead of showing old birth videos of mums who look like they’re having orgasms – I wish I’d seen an epidural or c-section. Just to get rid of the fear factor.”

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“Why don’t they talk about poop? We all wanted to know about poop!”

Read a midwife answering questions about poop here. 

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“The woman who took ours was all woo and very against medical intervention and actually told us things that weren’t true, and the only way the rest of us found out is because one of the mums was a doctor. So there was that.”

*

“Our antenatal class took us on a tour of the hospital and the birthing units, and also the dedicated birth centres. That was really great. The teacher also showed us a baby and a pelvis and how the baby physically had to navigate the birth canal. That was really helpful because I hadn’t realised just how tricky it was and it really drove home the point about sitting correctly to help the baby get into the right position for labour. They talked a lot about how labour can last a long time and to bring food and drink so you don’t get dehydrated. What they didn’t say was that you might not want anything to eat and drink, and might vomit it all up whenever you try to force yourself, and the family might eat all the sandwiches in the whānau room while they’re waiting for the baby to hurry up and get here (yes, that is an oddly specific example).”

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“I had no idea you bled after birth for a few weeks! That was a total shock to me. I also wish we had been told some awesome empowering birth stories, I just remember being totally freaked out that one third of us would be getting episiotomies. I also would have loved to have covered how to change a nappy! I had to ring the bell every time my little one needed changing because I was freaked out I was going to do it wrong.”

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“No one told me about after pains. They hurt! I had an elective c-section due to a womb obstruction. So the after pains were such a shock. My antenatal friends told me they are like labour pains. Also, no one told me the first bowel movement after abdominal surgery also would hurt like hell!”

*

“I felt so well prepared by our antenatal class. We spent a long time on the birth and they answered every one of my questions. I felt empowered after my class because they covered everything and they encouraged us to ask questions by writing them down so we didn’t feel embarrassed.”

Bodies

“I wish my antenatal class had covered more about what a mum’s post-partum body can be like in that “fourth trimester”. I never expected my ankles to swell up to the size of an elephant’s leg after the birth (wasn’t that all supposed to happen during pregnancy?!) I also had other, very painful problems that went on for many, many weeks – and the only other place I ever read about them (after the birth) was in Oh Baby! by Kathy Fray.”

Read about vagina therapy here.

“In terms of pregnancy, I wish there had been more details in the books and baby brochures about what happens when you have a miscarriage (I had no inkling of the pain that could be involved until my midwife said that I could go to the hospital if it got too much. Not only of what happens to your body but what happens in terms of the midwife system. I felt I had no idea what happened next – was my post-miscarriage check up part of the midwife funding or would I have to pay? Does the relationship with your midwife just suddenly end like that when you’re in a really emotional and vulnerable state? I realise that most pregnant mums will not want to think about miscarriage but if it does happen there is very little useful, practial information in those preganancy leaflets.”

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“I wish my antenatal class had told me about how delivering a baby causes you to loose your pelvic floor. And therefore your bladder control. I remember laughing at a joke my husband made, and then promptly peeing all over the floor. More than once.”

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“I wish they’d told us about pelvic floors. I pissed myself on the trampolines at Big Air.”

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“I learnt at antenatal group that ‘babies can be a bit unsettled on nights two and three.’ Yeah right! If I ran that group I’d be more like, babies quit sleeping around about night two and if you’re very lucky they might sleep again sometime in the next year. Stock up on box set DVDs, bottled water and Tim Tams.”

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*I wish the antenatal class had told be you can use maternity pads when your water breaks so you don’t keep dribbling everywhere!”

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“I wish they’d told me when and how to have sex with my husband after birth. I was afraid my vagina was ruined.”

Read about sex after childbirth here.

 

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The best thing you can do after your antenatal class is to give feedback. The people who run these sessions are usually mothers and volunteers – and they want to help. You can help too by telling them what really worked and what didn’t.

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