I have been teaching ante-natal classes, on and off for over 30 years. I still enormously enjoy teaching these classes and feel privileged to be part of the process of bringing a new life into the world. At the start of each course I look at all the faces, some nervous, some anxious, some excited, some reluctant (always men) and I really hope that I can deliver what’s needed and keep the participants interested. But most of all, I hope that I can truly help to prepare them to become parents. However, I have become increasingly unsure how effective the classes are in achieving this primary aim.
Over the years I have tried to address these concerns but have also noted that pregnant couples are not really that interested in basic baby care or discussion of the changes that parenting brings to their lives. I have always found it strange that Baby Basic classes are so difficult to fill and yet these are arguably the most important part of preparation for parenthood. Many couples tell me that after the birth of their baby they wished the classes had prepared them more for emotional changes, practical baby care and feeding. I have also often heard couples lament “no one told us about….”; yet I know that I had certainly covered many of these issues in the ante-natal class and so I can only assume that most expectant couples are so focussed on the process of childbirth that they do not even take in information about post-birth matters. This is understandable since the birth is the most talked-about and anticipated event and since it is also associated with pain, it is feared. But in the scheme of things, labour and birth covers, at most, only 1 or 2 days, all under the care of professionals. Compare this to the following 16+ years when parents will be responsible for the nurturing and care of another human being, largely on their own!
Another thing I have noted is how some health professionals seem to go out of their way to make things unnecessarily complicated for new parents. Take, for example, bathing a baby: this is not rocket science. All you have to do is put the baby in warmish water and give it a little wash. Obviously you wouldn’t leave a baby alone in the water but that’s about all you need to know. The worst-case scenario would be to drop the baby in the water but, of course, you would instinctively fish-out the baby and not leave it floundering there! Yet the most commonly asked ante-natal baby care request I get is for me to demonstrate how to bath a baby. I’m sure this is because a myth has been developed around the process with people telling expectant parents how difficult and scary it is. Breastfeeding is another example: foremilk, hind milk, breast compressions, asymmetric latch, milk ejection reflex and let-downs are all technical terms thrown at new mums when what is more important is to help a Mum feel confident effectively feed a baby from her breast.
What would be much more useful would be to prepare parents to deal with a screaming baby. If I had a penny (or a dollar) for every call or text I have had from an exasperated parent who just does not know how to stop the baby crying I could have retired long ago. Many assume there is something seriously wrong with the baby or something seriously wrong with their parenting skills when the vast majority of times there is nothing seriously wrong with either and eventually after trying various soothing techniques the baby inexplicably calms down. How much better would it be to spend an hour in an ante-natal class, not only discussing possible ways of calming a screaming baby but, yes, telling them that ALL babies do go through periods of screaming and, yes, often I do not know what’s wrong with their baby either, let alone the baby itself!
The other area about which I find parents surprisingly ignorant is the post-natal body. Remember all the fuss when The Duchess of Cambridge left hospital, 2 days after a delivery with, shock-horror, a large tummy! Well of course it was large, she’d just had a baby! But I seriously have had clients shocked that they couldn’t fit into their normal clothes when leaving hospital after giving birth. Or the clients who are horrified by stretched skin, stripes and scars. Some are surprised and disappointed that they lose blood vaginally after a Caesarean while others believe they are having a period because they are still losing blood a month after birth. Why are we not preparing mums for all of these changes in the ante-natal classes?
An area in which I witness a lot of conflict and confusion is the way relationships change after the birth. I used to try to prepare couples for this in the ante-natal classes but I detected glazed looks and defiant hand holdings, so I abandoned it. But there really are serious pressures in the first months and many are just not prepared for this change.
And let’s not forget the poor guys. What preparation do they get? I always feel bad for them as they are so earnest and supportive in the classes, which by-and-large ignore them. But they too have to cope with enormous changes in their lives, emotionally, physically and financially. Many of them are very anxious about their role in the birth process and “doing the right thing” both during labour but also the weeks and months afterwards and yet most ante-natal classes only give passing help with the first of these
I don’t really have a solution. As I have said, expectant parents do not seem over-eager or interested in most post-natal information. Yet the classes are a very good, but missed, opportunity to offer realistic advice and preparation for this massive change.
Any suggestions? Yvonne