First trimester freak out: Why antenatal education needs to begin at the start of pregnancy
Updated: Feb 28, 2019
So you've recently found out you are expecting and are feeling a bit nervous, and totally unsure of what choices you need to make at this stage of pregnancy. You have a million questions, like "How do I choose a midwife?" "What about an obstetrician, do I need one of them too?" "Should I confide in my sister-in-law or keep this news to myself for a bit longer?" Maybe some great evidence-based information would help allay your concerns. There's just one major problem... It’s common practice in New Zealand to put off attending antenatal classes until the very end of pregnancy. In fact, many families wait so long they end up missing some of the sessions because their baby has been born, or the entire course in the case of baby arriving prematurely. So why do families do this? And is this approach riddled with faults?
The first problem is that expectant families are actually told to do this. The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends pregnant women attend antenatal classes after 30 weeks of pregnancy. If your chosen classes are funded by an organisation, they may not provide funding for you if you are at an earlier stage of pregnancy and therefore your request to attend earlier may be denied.
Secondly, if you are enrolled in antenatal classes whose education is based on a medicalised approach to labour and birth, you aren’t going to need the information earlier anyway. If you are planning to approach your birth like prepping for a medical procedure, you’ll want that information to be as fresh in your mind as possible. In contrast to this approach, we believe women don’t need to be taught “how to give birth”. They are born with that knowledge as part of their womanly intuition. Therefore antenatal education should be about empowering mothers-to-be to trust their body knowledge, and equipping fathers-to-be with practical skills which support this. For more information on why a solely biomedical approach to labour sets up families for a traumatic birth experience check out our free video below:
Thirdly, New Zealand culture has adopted attending antenatal classes in the last part of pregnancy as a right of passage. It has become an expected milestone of pregnancy, much like the baby shower. Sadly, instead of feeling empowered, many parents report feeling more afraid of birth after attending and some may even quit after their first session.
Here at The Birthing Room we don’t believe in doing something just because it's the way it has always been done. So we've given the traditional 6 week late pregnancy course the flick, and gone back to the beginning. Research shows the first trimester of pregnancy is a time of both joy and worry for expectant parents. To add to those concerns, the dominant context for pregnant women in Western culture is medical technologies such as ultrasound and screening. Therefore families require evidence-based information about their rights to make informed decisions right from the get-go, not when their birth is imminent and their pregnancy is pretty much over and done with. We've found women also tend to have less support at the beginning of their pregnancy because of the common misconception that they need to wait to share their news in case they lose their baby. With their supportive circle lacking, the internet has become a common place of information searching regardless of whether the information found is actually accurate or true.
We’ve embarked on a journey to resolve these issues and rewrite the pregnancy experience in New Zealand. The Birthing Room now provides evidence-based antenatal classes right from your first trimester, so you can start on your empowered pregnancy, birth and parenting journey right from… well, the start! And best of all, it’s free! Once your first trimester is complete you can continue your pathway of empowered education with our Second and Third Trimester, and Birth-3 Months Courses. So what are you waiting for? Click on the link below for evidence-based information that will help your family have a positive first trimester experience.
Lou, S., Frumer, M., Schlütter, M. M., Petersen, O. B., Vogel, I., & Nielsen, C. P. (2017). Experiences and expectations in the first trimester of pregnancy: a qualitative study. Health expectations : an international journal of public participation in health care and health policy, 20(6), 1320-1329. 10.1111/hex.12572
Ministry of Health. (2017). Learning about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Retrieved from https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/pregnancy-and-kids/services-and-support-during-pregnancy/learning-about-pregnancy-birth-and-parenting
Ebeigbe, P. N., & Igberase, G. O. (2010). Reasons given by pregnant women for late initiation of antenatal care in the Niger Delta, Nigeria. Ghana medical journal, 44(2), 47-51.