The truth about NCT antenatal classes

Released on: 05 September 2011

We dispel common myths and misconceptions about our antenatal classes

There is a common myth that NCT antenatal classes are only suitable for ‘middle-class’ mothers  and pressure parents into having a certain type of birth. This is illustrated in a comment piece Lucy Rock, recently published on the Observer’s website: where she questions: ‘whether private classes run by a charity whose core philosophy is the belief in natural childbirth best prepare women for giving birth.’

The truth is that NCT is here to support all parents. Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience, and everyone wants to get it right. But what is right? These days, there is a bewildering amount of advice and information out there, about everything to do with pregnancy, birth and bringing up a child.

We’re an independent UK charity, funded by donations and course fees. We don’t push a particular view; we believe in giving parents unbiased, accurate information based on evidence and experience, in a supportive, non-judgemental atmosphere, so that they can decide what’s right for them and their family.

We offer practical and emotional support through our network of 300 local branches, helplines, courses and counsellors. Our highly trained antenatal teachers, breastfeeding counsellors and postnatal leaders are sympathetic experts. They set out the choices and encourage questions so that parents can explore all the possibilities and make their own decisions.

Lucy Rock used only anecdotal evidence from herself and a couple of friends to affirm her points about what our antenatal classes are really like and the benefits they provide. In contrast, to help us evaluate our courses and examine how well parents’ needs were being met, we conducted a longitudinal study with almost 1,000 first-time mothers and fathers to explore their experiences, feelings and views of attending NCT antenatal courses across the UK.

The results of this extensive study highlighted the importance of our courses in preparing expectant parents for birth and the first weeks of parenthood, as they were shown to dramatically increase both women’s and men’s confidence about birth and baby feeding. The research found that only 3% of women said they felt ‘confident’ about birth before attending an NCT antenatal course, rising to 98% after attending the course. Similarly among dads-to-be surveyed, just 1% said they felt ‘confident’ about birth before their course, which rose to 97% after the course. Commenting three months after the birth, three quarters of women and four in five men said they had felt prepared for their experience of birth and most said that they had felt confident during labour.

Our evidence shows that nine out of ten women came to NCT to get evidence-based information from a reliable source as well as to find out about different methods of pain relief and prepare for breastfeeding, with most coming on a personal recommendation. Our antenatal courses also provided an opportunity for women and men to meet others going through the same experience to share ideas and concerns, and discuss questions of common interest. We found that expectant parents really valued the opportunity our classes gave them to learn in groups, drawing on the teacher’s knowledge.

Our support are designed to be accessible to everyone, whatever their income and 50% of households in the UK are entitled to a discount on NCT antenatal courses. NCT is here to support all parents and reductions of 90% are available to parents with a yearly combined household income of less than £16,190, all students under 22 years old and parents receiving income support and income-based job seekers allowance.

We also support parents and parents-to-be from diverse and socially-disadvantaged backgrounds through voluntary work, partnerships with community groups and other charitable organisations and via the NHS and Children’s Centres. About 20-30,000 parents a year attend a free-of-charge antenatal course led by an NCT teacher because their NHS Trust has commissioned NCT to run the service on their behalf. We are currently focusing on growing this service so that more parents can access NCT support and information.   

We can’t stop people spreading stereotypical views about what we do, but we can offer accurate evidence and research to show why our support is so vital to thousands of parents across the UK.