Attending a prenatal class helps you prepare for labour and beyond. Here’s what you can expect from a prenatal class and why you should make it a part of your pregnancy journey.
WORDS SUNUJA NAIDU
When Dr Teoh Ren Shang and his wife, Victoria, enrolled in an antenatal class with Four Trimesters, it was with the sole intention of enabling Victoria to go through a drug-free birth.
“We took up Four Trimesters antenatal classes on the recommendation of friends who were satisfied clients. My wife and I wanted a drug-free birth, so we knew we had to look for classes from an unconventional source, at least by local standards. Four Trimesters turned out to be a perfect fit for our needs,” says the medical doctor.
The classes also turned out to be an “eye-opener” and a “steep learning curve” for the couple, despite both of them being healthcare professionals. “Proper birthing education is often lacking in our local population,” explains Dr Teoh, “and it is taken for granted that our parents and obstetricians know enough.” The latter, however, is not exactly the case, as Dr Teoh and his wife, a registered nurse, found out.
Being locally trained and “steeped in the conventional way of doing things”, the classes served to “deconstruct” many “long-held” – and “erroneous” – beliefs on what a good and safe birth is for the couple. One of which was the view that the best place to have a birth is in a tertiary hospital that can help cover any medical emergency. “This discounts the psycho-emotional advantages of birthing in an intimate environment of one’s choice, for example, one’s own home,” he says. “Just learning the fact that a drug-free birth was possible, in an intimate setting of our choice was revolutionary.”
Finding out about alternative birth experiences from written anecdotes and videos to meeting parents who had carried them out face-to-face at support group meetings, followed by consultations with the doulas – trained professionals who guide and support the family through a pregnancy – at Four Trimesters, empowered Dr Teoh and his wife to give a planned home birth a try. “It turned out to be the most amazing experience ever,” enthuses the first-time dad whose baby boy was born in January 2014.
So thrilled is he with the experience that he recommends that all prospective parents take up antenatal classes which are “based on the latest research on birthing, and tailored to their personal aspirations on the kind of birth experience they want.”
“Antenatal classes should empower parents to make informed decisions on the birthing experience they want,” he says.
Working Through Your Fears
While information about pregnancy is widely available in books and on the Internet, reading about it is not necessarily sufficient to equip you with all you need to know about the birthing process and the options available locally.
This is something Ginny Phang of Four Trimesters feels strongly about. “A lot of parents read up on pregnancy but a cognitive understanding is not enough for them to truly grasp what it’s all about and how it works on the psyche,” explains Ginny. By attending her antenatal classes, new mothers – and fathers – can learn to work through their fears and prepare their body for birthing. They can also learn how hospitals in Singapore approach childbirth and navigate the system successfully.
At Four Trimesters, Ginny and her team teach Birth Mapping. Birth Mapping helps mums-to-be understand what is happening to their bodies and to come up with several birth plans – not just one. Plan A, B, C and D provide them with a range of options to ensure the birth turns out to be a good and memorable one.
While a proponent of natural births, Ginny does not cater only to those who want to have home births or water birthing. Her aim is to help parents “have a positive birth experience, even if the outcome is not a natural birth.”
Towards that end, she offers hypnobirthing classes and teaches methods such as the Spinning Baby. Hypnobirthing is a method of relaxed, natural childbirth education, enhanced by hypnosis techniques, while Spinning Baby is a technique which helps labour resume when a baby might be trying hard to descend, is stuck or when cervical dilation in labour seems to stall or stop. Doulas too are on hand to provide much-needed support.
ParentLink Singapore is a centre that caters exclusively to those who seek a natural birth. It offers a variety of childbirth preparation classes. They include hypnobirthing classes run by a HypoBirthing Institute certified practitioner. Hypnobirthing is a method that allows women to use their natural instincts to bring about “a safer, easier, more comfortable birthing in a way that most mirrors nature,” explains Angelyn Seet, ParentLink’s director, childbirth educator and doula.
“Hypnobirthing – The Mongan Method is as much a philosophy as it is a technique and teaches mums that in the absence of fear and tension, severe pain does not have to accompany labour,” adds Angelyn. Mothers-to-be “gain an understanding of how the birthing muscles work in perfect harmony – as they were designed to – when the body is sufficiently relaxed.”
Audrey d’Cotta who took up the course at ParentLink when she was pregnant with her first-born shares that the breathing and visualisation techniques helped her manage the contractions in the initial stages of labour. She was also able to delay going to the hospital as the lessons taught her about the frequency of contractions and the best time to go to the hospital.
Another course offered by ParentLink is The Bradley Method, which emphasises that childbirth is a natural process, “encouraging mothers to trust their bodies and focus on diet and exercise throughout pregnancy.” Couples learn to manage labour through deep diaphragmatic breathing, progressive relaxation and with the support of a partner or labour coach. Husbands are encouraged to attend all the classes with their wives.
A Medical Approach
With antenatal classes gaining traction in Singapore, hospitals are offering them too.
Thomson Medical Childbirth Education provides medical-based advice on labour pain, what to expect and how to manage it; as well as how to understand and manage emotions during pregnancy, labour and after delivery.
A doctor from Thomson Medical Centre is invited to deliver a talk during the final week of the six-week course. Topics change according to the doctor’s area of specialty.
Antenatal classes provide parents-to-be with professional support and friendships with other parents as they go through their pregnancy journey. Beyond that, the classes may even bring about a change in the original birth plan.
Many couples who have gone through classes at centres like Four Trimesters – Dr Teoh and his wife, being a case in point – have been inspired to have a home birth. In fact, of the couples who went through her courses recently, six of them had home births in the first two months of this year, reveals Ginny.
Those with breech babies who would normally have opted for a Caesarean have managed to have vaginal births under her guidance while others have gone ahead with vaginal births after previous Caesarean births.
They can even strengthen a marriage as fathers-to-be are strongly encouraged to be part of the process. Says Angelyn, “Husbands are expected to attend births now and help their wives during labour, so it is important that they too know what to expect and how to help their wife through this journey in their lives together.” Supporting this notion is Thomson Medical Centre’s spokesperson who says, “Studies show that with the husband’s well-informed knowledge and skills that he learns during the [antenatal] course, his support will help to reduce maternal anxiety during labour and parenting.”
Apart from pregnancy and childbirth, antenatal classes also focus on breastfeeding and infantcare. “A lot of parents don’t prepare themselves for after the birth,” laments Ginny. Caring for a newborn can be taxing and take its toll on a marriage. To address this issue, Four Trimesters holds a ‘Bringing Baby Home’ workshop where parents can, in a relaxed and supportive environment, learn to strengthen their relationship and foster baby’s development during this challenging time.
At ParentLink afterbirth classes, mums-to-be can pick up the rudiments of the Dunstan Baby Language to better decipher their baby’s sounds and understand exactly what he needs, besides learning about breastfeeding techniques. At Thomson Medical Education, parents can learn about breastfeeding, how to have a healthy confinement as well as get hands-on training in babycare.
Whether you are planning a home birth or simply want to know how to manage your pain during your pregnancy, antenatal classes can help you navigate the bewildering maze that is childbirth and parenting with greater confidence and awareness. As those who have gone for such classes attest, knowledge is power.