Pregnant for the first time? Belt up. Pregnancy is one of the most educational experiences a woman can go through, and we’re here to help you navigate the next nine months — from cravings and (bumpy) curves to contractions and colostrum. This one’s all about prenatal classes. Are they a must-do or really no big deal?
Many parents-to-be think that prenatal classes are not necessary in the journey to parenthood. They take up time, they take up money, and they teach things that we can easily Google to find out about (or ask our parents, friends, and relatives).
In a nutshell, while prenatal classes are generally considered beneficial, they’re also seen as something that’s just good-to-have, not a must-have. That’s the common perception among pregnant couples whom I’ve spoken to. As a result, not all couples awaiting the arrival of their baby make it a point to attend prenatal classes as a way to prepare themselves for the journey ahead.
Since I was expecting my first child, I decided to attend one. Here’s what I discovered.
Selecting a Prenatal Class
Prenatal classes are offered by maternity hospitals as well as private organisations such as Mother and Child, ParentLink and Four Trimesters. Course content can vary so do some research on topics covered before putting your money down on one.
As a first-time mom, I knew I had a lot to learn. If attending a prenatal class could benefit me during my pregnancy and childbirth, then it’d be worth the time and money. While the Internet is a trove of easily accessible information, I can’t always be sure the sources are valid and trustworthy. This is true especially when it comes to taking care of your precious newborn — you don’t want to take the risk and just wing it.
All 10 birthing hospitals in Singapore offer prenatal classes, and you don’t need to be a patient to sign up. I decided on a hospital-run prenatal course as I wanted a trainer with a medical background and access to updated and relevant medical knowledge.
After some research, I chose Thomson Medical Centre’s Childbirth Education Course (CBE) and signed up for the one conducted by Mrs Wong Boh Boi (you can choose from the two trainers available). Mrs Wong, the Assistant Director (Clinical) at Thomson ParentCraft Centre, is well-known in the industry. She is an experienced Lactation Consultant and the author of the Celebrating Life series of books. The glowing reviews she’s received on mothering forums convinced me that, yes, she was my best bet! The topics covered in her six-week course include exercise and nutrition during pregnancy, breathing techniques, labour, breastfeeding, and newborn baby care.
Lesson 1: Physical and Mental Preparation
The class kicked off with antenatal exercises. Mrs Wong taught us exercises which are safe for pregnant women and which focused on relieving aches and strengthening the back muscles. I found the exercises gentle and applied them when stretching before bed.
Lesson 2: Pain relief
Mrs Wong taught breathing techniques that we could use in different pain scenarios. She then facilitated a practice session where husbands sat behind mums-to-be and simulated contractions by squeezing her with his thighs (‘applying pain’). Mrs Wong also told the birth partners to have one hand on the mum-to-be’s belly so as to guide her to breathe properly. This way, the birth partner is fully engaged in the activity while the mum-to-be learns to apply the right breathing technique. A quiz at the end of the lesson further consolidated what we learnt.
What was taught: Breathing techniques, identifying labour signs, types of pain relief
One important lesson that I learnt today – take notes! You get exposed to a lot of information, and it’s easy to forget stuff (pregnancy brain, you know).
Lesson 3: Labour
For me, this was “the traumatising lesson”. Why? Right at the start we were shown a video of six different types of childbirth. It was educational but painful to watch and I couldn’t help cringing throughout. However, this video took away the fear of the unknown and for me, made childbirth seem less daunting.
What was taught: Stages of labour, husband’s role in labour
Particularly useful was learning about birthing positions that minimise tear or trauma to the perineum. Mrs Wong also revised the antenatal exercises with us, and this time, my art-inclined hubby sketched out the positions for easy reference. It was a good thing we brought a notebook — this lesson walked us through the mechanisms of labour and there was no way we were able to commit all of it to memory!
Lesson 4: Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding may be nature’s nourishment, but many mothers find it tricky to establish. To help us learn better, Mrs Wong peppered the lesson with videos and pictures which complemented the lesson content and illustrated the concepts more clearly.
What was taught: Hunger cues, establishing a good latch, milk expression, breastfeeding problems such as engorgement and mastitis
Sometimes, inexperience and aversion to the ugly truth veers us away from the necessary facts, especially when conducting our own online reading. Mrs Wong presents the facts from her 30 years of experience in helping mothers breastfeed. One picture that scorched my mind was that of a mother’s scarred decolletage from applying too-hot breast pads onto her chest. I don’t think being a mother means that kind of sacrifice! We owe it to ourselves to be as educated about parenting as possible — especially in this information age.
Given the video-driven lesson, I can understand why a lecture was the chosen presentation method. Not wanting to miss a single thing, I was practically confined to my seat for the two-hour talk — which is uncomfortable for a pregnant woman with aching muscles and a small bladder!
Lesson 5: Baby Care
With chairs set up in pairs, Lesson Five proved to be a different kind of lesson. I was pretty excited that we finally got to handle our own baby doll (one doll per couple); time for some hands-on learning!
What was taught: Bathing, burping, swaddling, handling baby safely, calming baby, baby CPR
Like many busy working adults, my husband tried to negotiate absenting himself for a few lessons. However, I have found that the presence of the birth partner is crucial to how much you gain from the prenatal course. This is because your plus one is not there just for accompaniment, but to learn as much as you so that you can both be partners in parenting. Mrs Wong involves the husband in all the lessons, such as assisting the wife with antenatal exercises, but especially so in this lesson, where Hubby goes first when learning how to handle and bathe Baby.
Lesson 6: Doctors’ Talk
While Mrs Wong had covered nutrition during pregnancy in Lesson One, Dr Ang Poon Liat gave a more detailed talk on the science of nutrition and its impact on the health of the baby. Ideally though, this information would have been more beneficial to parents had it been scheduled at the start of the course.
What was taught: What to expect after bringing your newborn home (such as dealing with jaundice), how to eat well, and minimise exposure to toxins during pregnancy.
For parents contemplating skipping Lesson Six because it’s not helmed by Mrs Wong, I’d recommend not doing so as it is equally informative. For example, before today’s talk, we didn’t understand how important swaddling a baby was. Sure, it makes the baby look like an adorable Russian doll, but it just seemed like additional fanfare in the hot Singapore weather.
However, swaddling actually helps prevent cot death. Dr Tan Kuanyang shared an anecdote on a particularly rambunctious baby who was difficult to swaddle. Because the baby wasn’t swaddled when asleep, he turned over on his belly and suffocated. After hearing this story, I think I’d have to remind myself not to swaddle my baby too tight instead (“Make sure he doesn’t move! I don’t want him to die!”) — which is also undesirable and could restrict his muscular development.
So Should You Attend a Prenatal Class?
So back to the question: Do you need to go for prenatal classes? If you’re a newbie parent, I would highly recommend attending one. There’s so much about pregnancy and parenting that we are unfamiliar with, and there’s no re-do button when it comes to children. If we can be educated about it and prepare ourselves for the journey, we’ll be better prepared and empowered to make the best decisions for ourselves and for Baby.