june 2023

A Complete Guide to Antenatal Classes From an Expert Midwife

Wondering if you should book antenatal classes? And when or how you should book them? Our expert midwife answers all of your burning questions here.

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pregnant woman attending an antenatal class

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Antenatal classes are a great opportunity for parents-to-be who are seeking knowledge, advice, and support. Feeling fully informed about your options helps you feel more confident when making decisions about your pregnancy and birth and helps with the transition to parenthood. It can also help aid recovery and improve relationships and bonding.

Antenatal classes should cover key topics to prepare you for the realities of labour and all types of childbirth. However your birth planning works out, and whatever mode of delivery you experience, antenatal education should prepare you for that so that you can have a positive birth experience.

What do you learn in antenatal classes?

As a guide, a comprehensive antenatal course should cover the following topics at an absolute minimum:

  • Making a birth plan – why, how and what (not) to include. See our guide to writing a birth plan here.
  • Preparing for labour and birth:
    1. How to recognise the stages of labour.
    2. Understanding your hormones.
    3. What to do if you think you are in labour.
  • Your pain relief options:
    1. Non-pharmacological such as water, massage, TENS and movement.
    2. Pharmacological drugs such as paracetamol, codeine, Entonox and opiates.
    3. Anaesthetics such as epidural, spinal and GA.

Read our guide to pain relief options here.

Read our guide to choices and care in labour here.

Classes should ideally also include topics such as:

Antenatal classes should be available to everyone, easily accessible and affordable. Their content must be evidence-based and up-to-date, and delivered by trustworthy and qualified healthcare educators.

Ideally, you should also be able to contact and interact with the teachers and other parents-to-be. This may be face-to-face, via telephone or email, or via an online community hub, like our private MEMbers club.

How many weeks pregnant should I start antenatal classes?

Most parents-to-be start researching antenatal classes during their second trimester. And the best time to start antenatal classes is from 28 weeks pregnant, aiming to complete the classes by about 36 weeks pregnant. This ensures that the information will be fresh in your and your birth partner’s minds as you approach your labour and birth.

If you opt to do on-demand online antenatal classes, such as My Expert Midwife’s antenatal classes, you may wish to enrol on this earlier than your third trimester.

On-demand means that you and your birth partner can watch the courses online as many times as you want and can use them to inform your antenatal care throughout your stages of pregnancy.

How do I book antenatal classes?

a pregnant woman speaking to her midwife about when to start antenatal classes

If you are booked with your local maternity unit, your midwife should inform you of any antenatal education classes that they offer. Courses may be face-to-face, delivered via pre-recorded or on-demand videos, or virtual classes via Teams or Zoom.

Individual maternity units decide on their own format for parent education, with some offering either a one-off full day or several shorter evening classes over several weeks, usually held in the hospital or in a local Children’s Centre. Unfortunately, some Trusts don’t offer classes, so speak to your midwife about what classes are in your area.

You may also want to explore private paid-for antenatal classes such as My Expert Midwife’s on-demand antenatal classes. Again, the offerings vary, so think about what is important to you. You might want to consider the following when making your decision:

  • Price
  • Format (pre-recorded, virtual, face-to-face, group, one-to-one)
  • Location, accessibility, timing, availability
  • Is the presenter qualified? If so, in what? Are they a midwife, obstetrician, or health visitor, for example?)
  • Is the content up-to-date and evidence-based?
  • Does the content meet your needs?

Are paid antenatal classes worth the money?

Some people choose to pay for antenatal classes either because there are no free ones in their location, they have specific needs such as multiples or hypnobirthing, or because they want as much knowledge from several different classes as they can get. But how do you know which antenatal courses are worth paying for?

Doing your homework is important. Chat with your midwife or health visitor, friends, and family about who they recommend and investigate them further online. You can always email or phone them for more specific information.

In 2022, Which? reported that 91% of attendees at paid antenatal classes said they found them useful. However, they didn’t ask about value for money.

The value of classes is a very individual consideration, and some of the questions you may want to consider when weighing up your options include:

  • What is the overall cost and cost per hour?
  • Are partners able to attend too?
  • Are classes delivered face-to-face, on-demand or via virtual classes online?
  • Are you a first-time class attendee, or do you just need a refresher course?
  • Are the classes presented by qualified staff (midwives and obstetricians)?
  • Does the course cover topics that meet your needs?
  • What additional content do you get? For example, hypnobirthing, breathing techniques, perineal massage, and colostrum harvesting.
  • What is the additional support like? Are there any forums, online support, or recordings that you will gain access to?
  • If classes are face-to-face or live virtual, are they at a time convenient to you and your partner?

How to choose the right antenatal class for you?

A group of parents-to-be attend antenatal classes in person.

Choosing the right antenatal classes is hugely important. When making your decision, it’s crucial you ensure the classes will do the following:

  • Accommodate your learning needs.
  • Help you plan for labour, birth and the postnatal period.
  • Gives you the opportunity to engage with other couples.
  • Allow you to ask questions and address queries directly to the course leader.

Although there is much to learn in preparation for your birth and new arrival, antenatal classes should be interesting and fun and help to provide you with the opportunity to connect with others. Choose classes run by experienced, qualified antenatal teachers – don’t be afraid to ask about qualifications, they are important.

Antenatal classes should be responsive and flexible in order to accommodate the needs of all participants, and an experienced antenatal teacher will be able to adjust the classes to suit the needs of those attending. They should also provide you with an excellent opportunity to help you build relationships and lasting friendships with other parents-to-be, even when signing up for online antenatal classes.

Should I go to antenatal classes?

Are you wondering if you really need to go to antenatal classes? Although antenatal classes are not compulsory, they are an invaluable source of information for understanding pregnancy and childbirth for women and their partners. The way antenatal courses are delivered is constantly evolving, and because of recent circumstances, many have moved online.

But don’t worry, you can still gain a huge wealth of information from good-quality online antenatal classes. As well as being informative, some are also interactive, meaning you can check your learning through fun quizzes, forums and communities. With many, you can engage with the teachers and other parents-to-be.

Whether first-time parents-to-be or you already have children, you will probably find antenatal classes useful as maternity guidance changes frequently. You may have different plans, priorities and hopes for this pregnancy or labour.

If in doubt, ask the course provider who their classes are aimed at to establish if it’s the right option for you.

When should I book antenatal classes?

Parents-to-be hold up a scan of their unborn child.

Book antenatal classes as soon as you feel ready to ensure you get the dates that suit you best and to avoid missing out.

Some courses (usually face-to-face or live virtual) limit numbers to around 20 attendees. Whereas on-demand pre-recorded antenatal classes have no limit as you can access them when you want and as many times as you want.

Dates for both NHS antenatal courses and private courses are usually available up to a year in advance, meaning you can work out from your EDD (Expected Due Date) the best time to start.

We usually recommend starting antenatal classes after 28 weeks for face-to-face or live virtual, and if you feel ready, you can book them any time from around 12 weeks. Although some parents-to-be prefer to wait until after their 20-week ultrasound scan. It’s a totally personal choice.

If you would prefer to book online on-demand courses, so you can learn in your own time, you may decide to start working through them earlier than 28 weeks. You can tailor the course to your specific needs and stage of pregnancy, giving you time to rewatch chapters that are of particular relevance.

Are antenatal classes compulsory?

A pregnant woman is researching when to book antenatal classes on her laptop.

No, antenatal classes are not compulsory, and some parents-to-be prefer not to attend any antenatal classes at all, instead seeking information from healthcare professionals, online, friends and family.

However, the benefit of attending good-quality antenatal classes taught by qualified teachers is that they prepare you and your birth partner for labour, birth, the transition to parenthood, and newborn baby care based on the most up-to-date evidence available.

Classes can also help you with anxieties, concerns, fears, or other issues you may have about pregnancy, labour, birth and beyond by understanding that there are other parents-to-be going through the same things as you.

Antenatal classes taught by passionate, qualified and skilled antenatal educators should leave you highly satisfied, whether free or paid for. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to get:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Confidence
  • Empowerment
  • Friendships
  • Fun


Choose your antenatal classes carefully to ensure that they accommodate your specific learning needs. The ideal antenatal classes are responsive, flexible, interesting and fun, providing you with knowledge, confidence, and empowerment to be involved in decision-making about you and your baby.

My Expert Midwife has recently launched online antenatal classes covering 137 topics over 7.5 hours which combines high-quality teaching by our in-house midwives, an obstetrician, and an anaesthetist. You can watch the pre-recorded videos in your own time, at your own pace, as many times as you like. With our antenatal classes, you get access to our Members Community, where you can engage with other parents-to-be and our team of midwives.