NCT antenatal classes: third and last session vs NHS antenatal classes

angeliquelee-feature-nctclass1 | stockbroker/123RF

If you’ve been following my blog, you’d know that I haven’t been impressed with the NCT antenatal classes so far (if you don’t know why, please do read my posts on what we did in the first and second sessions). Last week, my husband and I attended our third session, and again, we were disappointed. Honestly, we haven’t learnt anything at all. We talked about skipping the last 2 sessions, but when we thought about how much they cost (£200 for 5 sessions), we were like, “never mind, let’s just go”. That is until we attended one of the NHS antenatal classes, which made us realised that the NCT ones are a complete waste of time and money! I wish I had known better – I would have just gone to the NHS ones right from the start! I mean, we’ve only gone to one so far and already we’re finding it very informative, practical and useful.

Anyway, in the first session, we learnt about natural and uncomplicated labour (so things like: what are the signs of labour, how do midwives measure dilation, how will the baby descend, how and when to push, what can we expect after delivery, etc etc). There’ll be 2 more classes after this, which we will of course attend – in the second session, we’ll learn about painkillers and complicated labour (so things like: breech babies, inducement, assisted delivery (including c-section), episiotomy, and we’ll even be shown the ‘tools’ used in assisted births (forceps, ventouse, etc) – which I think will be very interesting); and in the third session, we’ll learn about breastfeeding. I can’t recommend these classes highly enough; I think they really prepare you for childbirth and beyond (unlike the NCT-run classes!). Plus they’re free and are actually taught by a midwife who will be able answer all of your questions (again, unlike the NCT-run classes!). So yeah, if you’re pregnant, do find out about the antenatal classes that are available at your local hospital. Even if you’re not convinced and prefer to pay for the NCT ones, you should still attend at least one of the NHS classes – it’s free anyway so you’ve got nothing to lose.

Looking back at the second trimester

“You’ve survived the first trimester! Congratulations! But there’s still plenty to do before your baby arrives. Here’s a checklist to help you get organised.”

Pregnant Woman Thoughts | | mirosh17tatyana/123RF

1. Keep taking your daily folic acid (400mcg) and calcium (10mcg) supplement

I’ve talked about the importance of taking these supplements before (see my post “Looking back at the first trimester“), so I’m not going to repeat it here. But I’d like to reiterate that if you’re like me and you can’t be bothered with buying different supplements separately, you can always take an all-in-one pregnancy tablet (such as Pregnacare) which contains all the vitamins your body needs. I just find it so much easier.

2. Keep going to your antenatal appointments with your midwife

If this is your first pregnancy, you’ll have 3 antenatal appointments during your second trimester (one at 16 weeks, another one at 25 weeks and the last one at 28 weeks); otherwise, you’ll have 2 at 16 weeks and 28 weeks. Your midwife will test your urine sample for protein, check your baby’s heartbeat, bump size and your blood pressure at every appointment, and at your 28 weeks appointment, she’ll also take your blood sample. They’re all pretty routine really and each appointment lasts about 40 minutes or so (depending on whether you have a lot of questions to ask or not).

3. Go to your anomaly scan appointment

This is a detailed scan, which checks how your baby is growing and for physical abnormalities in your baby. This is also the scan at which you’ll be able to find out the sex of your baby (if you want to, of course). It’s supposed to last about 20 minutes, but mine took almost an hour because my baby just refused to move so the sonographer couldn’t check everything properly the first time. I had to move around, jump up and down to encourage my baby to change position. Luckily, she did; otherwise, I’d have to come back for another scan and that would be a pain. As with your dating scan, don’t forget to bring some change if you want to buy photos of your baby.

4. It’s probably time to break the news to friends and family

At the end of the day, this is your pregnancy, so you should have the ultimate control as to when to tell your family and friends and how to go about it. My husband and I did it in stages – we told our family after my first scan and we started telling our close friends when I was in my second trimester. But that’s about it; I suppose, we’ll tell more people after the baby’s here.

5. Keep yourself active, healthy and comfortable

Basically… watch what you eat, listen to your body, take extra care when taking any medicine (check with your doctor, midwife or pharmacist if you’re not sure), exercise, get enough rest, etc, etc. I’ve written about this in my post “Looking back at the first trimester“, because, well, you should start doing all the above right from the start anyway and continue to do so throughout your pregnancy.

6. If you haven’t already, start organising your finances and prepare for your new arrival

Again, this is something that I think you should look at from as early as possible, especially if you want to get your hands on amazing bargains. So, if you haven’t done so, make a checklist of what you need for your baby and slowly buy them when you spot a good price. My husband and I managed to save more than £1000 just by being organised. If you’re interested to know how we did it, read my post “For all those bargain and freebies hunters out there“. While you’re at it, don’t forget to think about insurance, childcare, benefits, etc. On that note, you might also be interested in “From bump to baby: understanding your benefits entitlement and financial options“.

7. Go for a holiday

You and your partner might not get the chance to go on a holiday alone together for a while after your baby is born. For most couple, the second trimester is the perfect time to book a vacation – you’re not feeling as sick and tired as you were in your first trimester and you’re also not feeling the strain of being heavily pregnant yet. My husband and I went to Tenerife for a week when I was 28 weeks pregnant – it was perfect, it was a beach holiday, so I was able to relax and it’s nice to be able to get some sunshine when it’s freezing in London. If you’re flying, remember to get a letter from your midwife stating that you’re fit to fly. I didn’t have to show mine but it’s good to have it with you just in case.

8. Start shopping for maternity clothes (if you need to)

I didn’t. I’m now 33 weeks pregnant and I’m still wearing my normal clothes. I just stay away from jeans, tight-fitting skirts, etc, and embrace leggings, loose dresses and jumpers. I personally think that if you choose your clothing smartly, you can get away from not having to spend money on maternity wear. My post “Style bible: ‘non-maternity maternity’ wear” should give you some ideas on how to choose what I like to call ‘double-function’ pieces.

9. Decide which antenatal classes you’d like to go to and book your place

The free NHS-run classes or the pretty expensive NCT-run classes or both – the choice is yours. I signed up for the NCT-run classes and paid £190 for 5x 2 hours classes. Why? Because I read and heard that they’re much better than the NHS-run ones. Unfortunately, I was wrong. In my opinion, they’re just not worth the hefty price tag. You can read all about it here and here… the classes are not finished yet, but I’ve come to terms that I will not learn anything from them. I’m utterly disappointed – I’ve attended 3 classes, that’s 6 hours, and I think it’s worth 10 minutes on google. So if you asked me, I’d say, go to the free ones and google everything else. And of course, bring your partner along to the antenatal classes.

10. Start thinking about your maternity leave, benefits and entitlements

Remember that you have to tell your boss that you’re pregnant by the 15th week before your baby’s due date and you also have to tell your boss in writing the date you propose to go on maternity leave.  If you’re not entitled to receive statutory maternity pay, you may be able to apply for maternity allowance, and there also other benefits that you may be entitled to depending on your circumstances. So it’s a good time to start sorting these out and don’t wait until the last minute.

NCT antenatal classes: second session

angeliquelee-feature-nctclass2 | halfpoint/123RF

So, my husband and I had our second NCT antenatal class this week. You already know that we didn’t find our first session particularly useful, but we were willing to cut it some slack because it was the first class so it was kind of like an introductory session. I thought that the second one was definitely going to be better. Unfortunately, I was wrong. For me, it was a complete and utter waste of money and time (but mostly money). My husband didn’t enjoy it either. For 2 hours, we were split into small groups of 4 or 5 and asked to discuss among ourselves things like: what does it mean for us to be parents, what kind of parents do we want to be, what kind of things we think our baby would inherit from us, who does what at home at the moment and how do we think that’s going to change once the baby’s arrived, etc, etc… I mean, seriously? We paid £200 for this? Our trainer probably wanted us to bond with other prospective parents and what she asked us to do was a good bonding exercise – there’s no argument about that, but I just think that we could talk about these things ourselves outside the class over coffees or something (if we want to). What I expect out of a pretty pricey antenatal class is lots of useful and practical information that’s going to help me get through labour and birth and care for the baby. Leave ‘bonding with other couples’ out of it – we’re all adults, we’re all capable of talking to each other and staying in touch ourselves (again, if we want to); it doesn’t have to be forced on us. The trainer should have done most of the talking in class, not us. Anyway, we learnt nothing about labour, birth and baby care so far. And I thought that antenatal classes are supposed to shed some lights on these things. Oh well, we’ll see what happens in the third session.

NCT antenatal classes: first session

angeliquelee-feature-nctclass1 | stockbroker/123RF

Last week, my husband and I attended our first NCT antenatal class. NCT classes are supposed to be the queen of all antenatal classes. At least, that’s what people say online and offline. They say that NCT classes are typically smaller, so it’s easier to meet prospective parents in your area, and they’re also very informative. So despite the hefty price tag (we paid £190 for 5 sessions), we chose them over NHS. Are they worth it? Well, it’s too early to tell – if it was only based on the first session, I would say no, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and see if they get better.

We started our first session by introducing ourselves. I think that’s pretty normal, but then we were asked to introduce someone else (anyone except our own partner) to the group. I get it that the trainer probably wanted us to mingle a little bit, but it kind of reminded me of school and the whole introduction thing took more than 30 minutes. I personally think that it wasn’t necessary. She then went on to explain what happens during labour – the three stages of labour, how to recognise that you’re in labour, how to count your contractions, when to call the delivery suite, when to go to the hospital, etc. Now that’s useful and I actually took a lot of notes (so did my husband). Unfortunately, the usefulness of the session stopped there. We then took 15 minutes break and when we came back, again we were asked to talk to other couples – this time, it was about our hopes and worries, and about baby names (whether or not we’ve chosen one; if yes, how did we go about it; if no, why not… what’s the problem, etc). The session then closed with a 5-minute breathing exercise and that’s it.

So, in a nutshell, out the 2-hour session, we got: 45 minutes of introduction, 30 minutes of useful information about labour, 15 minutes break, 25 minutes of ‘sharing session’ and 5 minutes of breathing exercise. Was it worth £38? Honestly, no! But let’s see what happens this week.

Beauty and pregnancy (part 3): your body – what is safe and what is not?

Body Care Products | | tashka2000/123RF

(You might also be interested in Beauty and pregnancy (part 1): your hair – what is safe and what is not? and Beauty and Pregnancy (part 2): your face – what is safe and what is not?)

1. General body care: body wash, body scrub, body lotion, oil and cream

The majority: In the majority’s view, exposure to general personal care products is unlikely to be harmful to your unborn babies. According to them, yes, certain products do pose a chemical risk, especially if they contain the so-called ‘toxic’ chemicals (like the foaming agent SLS, which is often found in shower gels and bubble baths), but there’s simply not enough evidence to suggest that these chemicals are a risk to your health. They say that as long as you don’t wrap yourself in bubbles, there’s really no need to worry. In fact, the Cosmetics, Toiletry and Perfumery Association’s spokesman, Dr Chris Flower, says, “All cosmetic products are assessed for safety before they are allowed on the market. That assessment is by qualified experts who understand cosmetics may be used by women who are pregnant, or who might not be aware they are pregnant at the time. Unless cosmetics are safe for use in pregnancy, they would not be placed on the market. It really is that simple.

The minority: The minority advices pregnant women to take extra caution when it comes to choosing their personal care products, even though the risks associated with the so-called ‘toxic’ chemicals are minimal, precisely because “there’s simply not enough evidence to suggest whether or not they’re safe”. They say that expectant mums should avoid using chemical-laden shower gels, bubble baths, body lotions, etc, etc, and opt for more natural products instead.

My opinion: Interestingly, when I read about general hair care products, the opinions of the majority and minority are completely different from the above – the majority says: take extra caution; whilst the minority says: there’s really no need to worry (Beauty and pregnancy (part 1): your hair – what is safe and what is not?). Confusing, isn’t it? Well, I’ve said it before that I’m still using my usual shampoos and conditioners, and I’ll tell you right now that I’m still using my usual shower gels and scrubs (although I’ve stopped taking bubble baths and I’m using organic sweet almond oil for my body instead of the usual lotion or cream). I suppose, it’s good to change your lifestyle and stay closer to nature, but organic products can be quite expensive and may not be accessible to a lot of people. So, I think we should all use our common sense and not be unnecessarily stressed about using non-organic personal care products. After all, stress itself is unhealthy and may be more harmful to your unborn babies than lathering your body with your favourite shower gel for a few minutes.

2. Shaving and waxing

The majority and minority: According to everyone, it’s safe to shave or get waxed during pregnancy – there’s no studies to suggest that hair removal products are unsafe. But due to all the hormonal changes in your body, your skin may be more sensitive; so getting a wax and the regrowth of hair itself are likely to be more painful than usual.

My opinion: This is good news, isn’t it? Just make sure you go to a reputable salon and tell your therapist that you’re pregnant. I’m definitely getting a bikini wax before labour!

3. Deodorant and antiperspirant

The majority and minorityWhen it comes to deodorant and antiperspirant, both camps agree that you should steer clear of those products that contain aluminium-based compounds (which keep you from sweating), Parabens, PEG 20, Propylene Glycol, Triclosan, Sodium Benzoate and Synthetic Fragrance. They say that repeated exposure to these chemicals may cause hormone disruption, damage to the foetus and birth defect. Even for non-pregnant women, these chemicals have been linked to breast cancer and alzheimer disease. If you must use deodorant or antiperspirant during pregnancy, they suggest that you go for the natural and aluminium-free brands.

My opinion: I’m afraid I can’t be of much help here. Personally, I’m not a fan of deodorant and antiperspirant. I’ve tried using them, but they’re too sticky for me; I could actually feel them under my arms and I don’t like it. I also don’t like their smell – I think it just interferes with my perfume. I usually just dust a bit of baby powder under my arms when I sweat and it works.

4. Tanning and bronzing

The majority: According to the majority, fake tan products are generally safe to use during pregnancy. This is because, the ingredients used in fake tans only react to the cells in the outer layer of your skin (thus, changing its colour) and are not absorbed into the body, so they can’t harm your unborn baby. They do, however, suggest that you avoid spray tans as the effects of inhaling the spray are unknown. Also, since your skin is more sensitive, you might want to do a patch test first in case it causes an allergic reaction.

The minority: In the minority’s view, since the effect of self-tanners on pregnant women hasn’t been studied much, it’s probably best to err on the side of caution before bronzing yourself during pregnancy. They say that using fake tan products occasionally may be less harmful than baking yourself under the sun or the tanning beds, but still, you probably shouldn’t overdo it.

My opinion: There you go again, the famous phrase ‘don’t overdo it’. Until today, I still don’t know what it means. I personally have never used fake tan products before – I don’t have pale skin and I suppose I’m blessed in that regard. I think you can survive without bronzing yourself for 9 months, but if you must do it, then perhaps once or twice wouldn’t do any harm?

5. Perfume

The majority: Since perfume is made up of combinations of natural and chemical compounds, the majority’s view is that pregnant women should avoid using it directly on the skin at least during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. There’s a study which links perfume usage during the first trimester to fetal male development (that is, it could render a baby boy infertile); the tests were, of course, carried out on rats, but hey, better be safe than sorry. They also say that since your sense of smell is probably heightened by now, you might find that some scents make you dizzy, nauseated, more prone to headaches, etc.

The minority: According to the minority, it’s completely safe to use perfume during pregnancy. But they agree that due your heightened sense of smell, certain scents may make you feel uncomfortable, so you just have to choose one that suits you.

My opinion: I’m quite lucky in the sense that I don’t have that ‘heightened sense of smell’ they talked about, so I can still wear all my favourite perfumes. I’m far beyond my first trimester now and I know that I have a baby girl, but I still try not to spray it directly on my skin (it’s just a habit, really). There’s no conclusive evidence that the chemicals used in perfumes will harm your unborn baby in any way, but if you’re feeling anxious, then you might want to avoid wearing them during your first trimester.

6. Manicure and pedicure

The majority and minority: Both the majority and minority agree that getting your nails done during pregnancy is safe since chemicals aren’t absorbed through your nails. They do, however, say that some nail varnishes contain Phthalates, which may be harmful to your unborn baby, but as long as you polish your nails in a well-ventilated area, you should be okay. If you’re not convinced, then they suggest that you use Phthalate-free nail varnishes, which are widely available. They also say that nail varnish removers are safe to use when pregnant; they usually contain Acetone, and if you’re worried, you can always buy Acetone-free removers.

My opinion: I agree with the above. I rarely polish my nails, but I don’t see why you couldn’t do it when you’re pregnant.

7. Spa and other professional treatments

The majority and minority: Everyone agrees that when you’re pregnant, you should avoid heat treatments which raise your core body temperature (like, body wraps, saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, etc) since there’s no way of knowing how much heat is making its way to your unborn baby. But a dip in a warm bath or hydrotherapy pool is okay as long as the water temperature is no higher than 35 degrees C.

My opinion: I’m not going to say anything. All those things above, they’re my favourite spa treatments!