If you are pregnant, antenatal classes can help you to prepare for labour, the birth of your baby, and becoming a parent. Some classes also include practical advice on how to care for your baby after their arrival, as well as how to look after you and your relationship with your partner.
Many maternity hospitals and health centres offer antenatal classes for free, though you can also register for private classes if you wish. You should book your preferred classes as early as possible as these can sometimes fill up fast.
If you are employed, you may be entitled to take paid time off work to attend antenatal classes. You should give your employer at least 2 weeks’ notice (in writing) before the classes begin.
COVID-19 and pregnancy
The information available about COVID-19 to date suggests that pregnant women are not a high risk group.
If you are pregnant and think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your GP for advice regarding assessment and possible testing. Most women who test positive and have mild symptoms can safely self-isolate at home. Guidelines state that routine antenatal or ultrasound appointments should be deferred until after the period of self-isolation (14 days).
Pregnant women who have COVID-19 should only attend the hospital if in need of urgent medical or obstetric care. Do not travel on public transport. It is important to phone the hospital in advance of coming to make sure you are seen at the right place by the right medical team.
For more information on COVID-19 and pregnancy, the National Maternity Hospital has published Coronavirus and Maternity Advice (pdf). The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has also produced information on COVID-19 and pregnancy for women.
COVID-19 and antenatal classesFace-to-face antenatal classes are currently cancelled because of COVID-19. Some maternity units are offering online antenatal classes for women booked into their hospital. Online resources include videos about pregnancy, labour and caring for a newborn (University Hospital Kerry), online courses (Natonal Maternity Hospital) and learning hub (Rotunda Hospital).
Check with your maternity unit or hospital about online resources that may be available. Find your local maternity unit or hospital.
How to choose an antenatal class
You should talk to your GP, midwife or public health nurse about antenatal classes available in your area. They can offer you guidance if you are unsure about which classes to attend.
Some antenatal classes focus on labour and the birth, while others include a variety of topics. Some classes are tailored to parents with specific needs, such as lone parents, teenagers, or parents having twins or multiple births.
If you have previously had a caesarean birth but now wish to have a vaginal birth, many areas offer vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) antenatal classes.
If you would like additional support during the class, many class providers allow partners (or a friend) to accompany you. Check the rules with your class provider before bringing someone along.
Other topics that may be covered in your antenatal class:
- How to stay healthy during pregnancy
- Emotions that you may experience during your pregnancy
- What happens during labour and birth
- How to deal with labour
- Positions and breathing for labour and birth
- Relaxation techniques
- Pain relief
- Different types of births and interventions
- Preparation for becoming a parent
- Caring for your baby
- Developing a relationship with your baby
- Looking after your relationship with your partner
- Safe skin-to-skin contact
- Your health after the birth of your baby
- Hopes and concerns
Classes are participant-led, which means that you (and other members of the class) can have a say in the topics discussed and the pace at which you learn.
When to start your antenatal classes:
Most formal antenatal classes start when you are between 26-32 weeks pregnant.
If you are expecting twins (or any multiple births), consider starting your antenatal classes early. Your babies may arrive before their due date.
You should also book your preferred classes as early as possible as these can sometimes fill up fast. You can find contact information for public hospitals here.
Time off work and antenatal classesIf you are employed, you are entitled to take paid time off work to attend one set of antenatal classes (except for the last 3 classes in a set). For example, if this is your first pregnancy in employment and you are attending a set of 8 classes, you are only entitled to be paid while attending 5 of those classes. The last 3 classes would normally occur after your maternity leave has started.
You do not have the right to paid time off work to attend antenatal classes each time you are pregnant and in employment. The entitlement covers one set of classes (for one pregnancy) only.
However, if you are unable to attend some antenatal classes due to reasons beyond your control (such as premature birth, illness, miscarriage or stillbirth), you can carry over your entitlement to your subsequent pregnancies. This means you can take paid time off work to attend any untaken classes (except the last 3 in a set).
In order to take this paid time off work, you must notify your employer in writing at least 2 weeks before classes begin. You should outline the dates and times of the classes, as your employer has the right to request this.
For more information on your entitlement to take paid time off work to
attend antenatal classes (as well as general information on employment rights)
contact the Workplace Relations
Antenatal classes held by your local public maternity hospital are free of charge.
If you choose to attend private antenatal classes, you will be asked to pay a fee. Remember to always check the credentials of the class provider before paying.