How to Choose Antenatal Classes
Thinking about joining an antenatal class in Hong Kong? To help you find the right class for your needs, Yvonne Heavyside of The Family Zone explains the factors to consider when choosing a class, and what types of courses are available in Hong Kong.
When I first started teaching antenatal classes in Hong Kong, there was very limited choice in the type of class and location. Most couples attended classes associated with the hospital in which they were to deliver, and if these were full they either went without or sought private classes. Now there are many different classes available, and whilst choice is always a good thing, it can also be a bit overwhelming and confusing. You might wish to consider some of the points I have outlined below when deciding which antenatal classes to choose.
Most English speaking classes fill up quickly, so try to book at least 4 months before your baby is due. Ideally, classes should finish about a month before your due date. But try not to start too early since you could have forgotten some of the things you’ve learned by the time of the delivery. Enquire if you are able to make up classes if you miss one.
Location and Time
Consider how close the class location is to your workplace. Are there public transport and carparks close by? Is the room easily accessible or do you have to climb stairs? Are the seats comfortable and is there a bathroom on the same floor? Consider the class starting time: if too early then there’s always a risk that you will arrive late and stressed, especially if it’s difficult to get away from work. If too late then you may fall asleep in the class or worry about the journey home. Is there somewhere nearby to grab a bite to eat before or after the class? Some people like to attend classes run by the hospital where they hope to deliver as a way of familiarising themselves with the journey to the hospital and learning specifically about hospital protocol and care.
Generally speaking, the larger the class, the cheaper the cost. The largest classes (30+ couples) are usually those run by public hospitals; these are either free or very cheap. They tend to be taught in a lecture style without much opportunity for questions or participation.
As a teacher, I most enjoy teaching classes of around 10-15 couples as I find this group-size is not too big to inhibit questions but not too small for people to feel self conscious about asking their questions. Also, with such a class size there is almost always a good diversity of opinions and viewpoints which is good for healthy debate and to help you consider alternatives for your own birth. However, most research seems to indicate that smaller size classes are the most conducive to learning, for expectant couples. Very small classes can be fun if the class gels well but less comfortable if you do not get along with other participants. Private antenatal classes appeal to some couples as they like to proceed at their own pace (contrary to expectations I often find these take longer to cover the material than group classes, as there is much more interaction). They are also popular with couples who have particular concerns or who only wish to cover single topics, rather than a whole course, or who have busy work/travel schedules.
Type of course and content
As previously mentioned, these are a good way of familiarising yourself with hospital location, protocol and staff. However they tend to fill up quickly and sometimes the location is inconvenient for working couples. These courses cover a wide range of topics from the antenatal to postnatal period. Natural childbirth, assisted delivery, complications and Caesarean section are usually covered. These courses tend to reflect delivery practice within each hospital. Some courses are longer than others (the Matilda course is the longest hospital course at 12 hours). Breastfeeding and prevention of sudden infant death syndrome are often included. Longer courses offer the opportunity to meet other couples over refreshment breaks and during group participation. I have clients whose kids are now 7 or 8 and who remain good friends with couples they met in their antenatal classes. As far as I am aware, only the Matilda International Hospital and the Hong Kong Adventist have classes in English. Public hospitals have very limited English speaking classes and fill up quickly.
Fast Track Classes
I first started teaching these during SARS and found that many couples (particularly men) actually prefer them to longer courses. Fast track classes usually take about 6 hours over 2 or 3 sessions and cover essential information. The content is similar to full courses but there are no coffee breaks or opportunities for much socialising during the class. They also include one class covering feeding and a little about baby care. I always introduce the topic of postnatal depression in all of my classes because the incidence in Hong Kong is so high and awareness and early detection are essential.
Whilst most of the above courses cover specific breathing during labour and the pushing stage, this is only a small aspect of the course with minimal class participation.
Specialised Classes: Active Child Birth
These are geared towards a natural delivery, often but not always, without the use of drugs. Other course content is similar to the above classes.
Specialised Classes: Hypnobirthing
These courses teach self hypnosis, relaxation and breathing for childbirth. They do not often cover other aspects of childbirth such as the use of chemical pain relief or the procedure for Caesarean section. A breastfeeding class is often, but not always, included in the course.
Specialised Classes: Calm Birth
These courses focus on meditation and relaxation. Like hypnobirthing, classes aim to prepare clients for a natural delivery with minimal use of drugs and intervention.
Specialised Classes: Caesarean Section Only Class
This kind of class covers the procedure for those booked for an elective Caesarean Section. I generally advise my C-Section clients to attend the fast track classes as occassionally ladies unexpectedly go into natural labour and end up having a vaginal delivery and it is good to feel prepared, should this occur. It is also important to be aware of the signs of labour.
Specialised Classes: Baby Basics
I have always found it strange that these kinds of classes are often difficult to fill yet are arguably the most important part of preparation for parenthood. Many couples tell me after the birth of their baby that they wished the class had prepared them more for practical care of the baby and feeding (baby basics). Yet most expectant couples show much more interest in the process of childbirth. This is understandable as it is a much talked about and anticipated event; but in the scheme of things labour covers only 1-2 days, all in the care of professionals, compared to the following 16+ years when you will be responsible for the nurturing and care of another human being!
Specialised Classes: Breast Feeding Only
These classes are run by certified lactation consultants (IBCLC’s) or La Leche League International. They might be held as either a private or group class. They are useful for people not attending conventional antenatal classes (where breast feeding is covered), for second time parents who need a refresher, or for those who have had previous lactation problems.
The Instructor and Teaching Method
Ask about the instructor’s qualifications and experience. Has she worked in Hong Kong and in what capacity? What knowledge does she have about both the public and private hospital systems? Does she work with specific doctors or hospitals? Is she a qualified teacher? What is the style of the class? Is it relaxed and does it encourage interaction? Is it practical? Is it geared towards providing information or is it more practical and participative? What is the instructor’s reputation? If you are delivering with a private doctor, ask your doctor’s opinion on whether the instructor’s classes are suited to his or her delivery style. Ask around for feedback from other couples who have attended classes. A key question to ask is if they felt the classes prepared them for all aspects of the childbirth and early days after.
Numerous studies have shown the importance of antenatal classes in preparation for childbirth. Finding the right class for both of you is important. Making the effort to attend can be hard at the end of a busy day, but remind yourself that “knowledge equals power” and hopefully the effort will be worth it.