Which antenatal class is best for me – NHS or NCT?

Our answer to this question was both, but if I had the choice again I would skip the NHS class and just attend NCT. It costs £200 which may put people off, but it’s good fun, amazingly thorough and allows you to meet a great network of new friends.

As clueless first-time parents-to-be, we signed ourselves up to everything. We booked every class we could think of, asked millions of questions on visits to the midwife, read countless pages online, quizzed family members and friends with kids, bought books and devoured leaflets; but when I look back now I realise attending NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes was by far the best decision we made.

Spread over five intensive sessions covering everything from labour pains, delivery positions, breastfeeding, nappy changing, birth plans and even post-natal depression; these relaxed and interactive classes prepare you for just about every eventually in the build-up to your child’s birth. If anything the amount of information is slightly overwhelming but it’s incredibly comprehensive and although we finished the course with our heads spinning, we felt a whole lot more prepared.

The previous week we’d attended the two free NHS antenatal classes, which were much shorter and delivered in a more formal setting at our local clinic (although I’m sure the format and location differs a lot depending on your location and who delivers the course). I did find these classes very helpful though and would recommend them to anyone who didn’t want to pay extra for NCT, but if you’re only planning to attend one I think NCT covers everything in much more detail.

The real reward of attending NCT courses, though, is the wonderful network of friends you build. There are obviously plenty of couples at the free NHS classes, but as you don’t interact as much there’s very little opportunity to create any kind of bond or relationship. NCT, however, actively encourages it from the start of the first session. We created two WhatsApp groups before the course was over – one for mums and one for dads  – and the following week we all met up for beers and a curry. We were 16 strangers thrown together randomly, but the one thing we had in common was the fact we were all preparing for the biggest moment of our lives at roughly the same time.

We kept in touch all the way up to and throughout the 8 births – sharing worries, advice and horror stories as one by one our children arrived in wildly different circumstances. The end result was four handsome boys and four beautiful girls, who have spent lots of time together since their arrival. The mums meet regularly for coffees, lunches, walks and the occasional cheeky glass of wine, and support each other fantastically. They message each other at all hours of the night, giving each other confidence and helping other through all sorts of situations and experiences. Us dads are in touch less regularly (typical blokes) but we still text each other for advice and have shared some of the more amusing moments from the first weeks and months of fatherhood – usually revolving around exploding nappies.

The first time we all got together after the course was a couple of weeks after the last baby was born, on a reunion night hosted at our house. I’ve had plenty of house parties in my time, but none quite as rowdy as that. The 16 shattered adults weren’t the problem – it was the 8 screaming babies that caused all the trouble. But if anything it was just reassuring to know we weren’t in it on our own. Ours wasn’t the only baby that screamed, and pooed, and screamed again, then laughed, then screamed, then eventually went to sleep. And we weren’t the only ones who were tired, and grumpy, and finding things a bit tough; but also loving every minute of it.

I truly hope we all stay friends for a long time, and I’d love to think our kids will all grow up to become great friends themselves. All that for a measly £200…

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