Like many expectant couples, we had numerous recommendations from friends and family to attend one of the courses run by the NCT to prepare for the upcoming birth; like many expectant couples, the most-common reason given for attending a course was that we would “meet other new parents” with whom we could share our experiences. Which is a strange thing, because – while we did meet several local parents and plan to stay in touch at least to some degree, that (currently) feels like the least useful thing we gained from the course.
We’d also heard from some couples about bad experiences with NCT which can briefly be summarised as feeling pressured (implicitly or explicitly) into certain choices regarding labour, delivery and the first year of child-raising. Put briefly this wasn’t our experience, although we’re aware that many things depend on the local branch and the particular trainer for the course you attend, so experiences naturally vary. Here’s a summary of what we found.
Do NCT trainers insist on ‘natural’ pain relief options?
Our experience: Our trainer, Helen, presented all the available options for pain relief from the New Ageiest (breathing, hypno-birthing techniques, TENS machines) to the relaxing-in-early-labour-maybe (birthing pools, Entonox) to the actually effective (Pethidine/Diamorphine, epidurals) alongside the current evidence for efficacy, advantages and disadvantages. We were encouraged to discuss all options in small groups, ask questions and talk with partners about our choices; this was one of the most useful things about the course for me, as it meant I had time and space to talk about my birth plan with Darien so he was able to support me on the big day.
What about birth and delivery? I want medical management, will the NCT mind?
Our experience: Again, Helen presented the various options in a neutral way, although several members of the group were vocally (and insistently) surprised to hear that home births are as safe for low-risk delivery as a surgeon-led Labour Ward. Some of us were already planning to give birth in the birth centre at either the Whittington or UCH; others were keener to have a medically-managed birth with continuous monitoring and the possibility of an epidural, and one lady had an elective Caesarean scheduled. All of these options were again discussed fully alongside the advantages and disadvantages of each. Feelings about what’s best for mum and baby can run very strong, as our group’s lively (and lengthy) discussion attested, but we felt the clinical information and emotional issues were discussed neutrally and supportively.
Bottle-feeding, though. They hate that, right?
Our experience: The course finished with a separate half-day workshop with a breastfeeding specialist, and so unsurprisingly the focus was on breastfeeeding, why and how to do it and where to get help if it all goes wrong. Even women (and partners) who plan to bottle-feed are encouraged to attend, so it’s easy to understand how all this can look like pressure on another potentially emotive issue. From my point of view, as someone who hoped to breastfeed, I found the practical information about how feeding actually works useful, although in practice nothing really prepared me for the reality of getting a newborn baby onto an unpractised boob. For one thing, the practice dolls weigh less than a kilo, and for another they don’t squirm around and kick when you hold them. Somebody needs to look into that as a design project.
What else did you learn?
Our experience: We also discussed issues including co-sleeping, dummies, routines or the lack thereof in newborns, and the practicalities of the first few weeks (or “how your nights are about to be entirely occupied by a cycle of feeding, changing and fitful napping”). Some of the questions group members had to ask have no current definitive answers, which in one way was a bit frustrating and in another is simply the reality of child-rearing – the jury is out on an awful lot of things.
Lise’s big takeaway from the course was that gin is compatible with breastfeeding (that came staight from the NCT lady’s mouth and made all the mums-to-be in the group very happy), and Darien’s was that breast milk makes the best White Russians. We also – obliquely – learned that some men seem to be very vocally insistent on what’s best for their partners, and that some women put up with this sort of thing a lot more than I would.
And the meeting people thing?
Our experience: Right now, we’re happy to be in the loop with our group members (roughly half of whom have now given birth) although we haven’t yet felt a strong urge to spend any social time with them outside of our course. (Specific to our group: everyone seems to be on WhatsApp for some reason and as Darien and I aren’t Spanish college students we’re not, so we haven’t kept up with the volley of prenatal messages I assume were circulating between the cool kids). We’re looking forward to the six-week reunion in a couple of months, however, and I wonder if our feelings will have changed by then.
In short: the information and opportunity to discuss matters helped us both feel a lot more confident about our upcoming adventure, and we probably would recommend an NCT course to other parents-to-be (largely for reasons different to those given by friends recommending to us).
But the most important thing is, ofc, that by having the first baby in our group we won at NCT. Boom.