Pregnancy is an exciting time - especially for first-time mothers - but once the shock and delight of seeing that little second line appear on a HCG test subsides, it's time to start thinking about the realities of pregnancy and labour. Your mind is no doubt whirring with questions, not just about the changes that are happening to your body but about the seismic changes that are about to happen in your life as you welcome a newborn baby into your family.

Fear not, there is a wealth of information available directly from the experts at a range of antenatal classes on offer around the region...

Why go to an antenatal class?

"Prenatal education and knowledge empowers parents and enables them to make informed choices," says Hazel Leonard, lead midwife at maternity and parenting education provider Babies and Beyond. "Our workshops are open for all parents and are designed to equip them with the information and encouragement they need to navigate this exciting and emotional period." As well as offering practical advice (think labour positions, breathing tips, bathing and changing baby and feeding positions), the workshops can help you navigate the emotional side of pregnancy and childbirth. "We look into the positive impact of a supportive birth partner, what a woman can expect during labour emotionally as well as physically, how family dynamics will change when your newborn arrives and postnatal depression. These subjects can be quite complex and challenging to tackle, but we feel it is very important for people to be aware of everything involved in becoming parents."

Midwife Cecile De Scally, who runs parenting classes at Malaak Mama & Baby Care, says antenatal classes can also equip you for your parenting journey beyond the labour room: "In the classes we talk practically about how to feed your baby from breast as well as bottle. We start the 'good habits' talk for sleep routines and explain how this can work without leaving a baby to cry. We then talk everything baby, from the hospital tests to the practical care after, practising nappy changes and discussing the products that will make your parenting journey much easier and more fun," says Cecile.

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While the majority of classes are recommended for the later stages of pregnancy when you are focused on the birth and preparing for baby (typically from 24 weeks on), there are also information sessions for early second trimester mums. "An antenatal class normally focuses on the birth and after, although I recommend mothers to come in early pregnancy (12-20weeks) to be able to advise on healthy eating and exercise and other ways to care for yourself and your baby," says Cecile.

Of course, one of the most pressing issues discussed in antenatal classes is your birthing options: "We explain the birth process and the special circumstances that can occur. We talk about all forms of natural, as well as medical, ways to assist a mother during birth. It's important for parents to have a good understanding of all aspects of birth so they can make the best informed decision about their birth and caring for their baby afterwards," says Cecile. To that end, you can expect to learn all about breathing and relaxation techniques, as well options for birth positions.

However, one of the most overlooked benefits of group antenatal classes is the opportunity to meet other parents in the same position as you. "Having a support network of other parents can make a very positive difference, especially in Dubai where new parents often have very limited family support," says Hazel. "We encourage everyone attending the class to keep in touch with each other and arrange meet-ups after the classes." She adds, "Knowledge is a powerful tool for all expectant and new parents. Understanding what to expect can help eliminate fears surrounding childbirth and empower parents to make informed decisions with their best interests at heart."

Read more: SIDS in the UAE: 15 ways to protect your baby

What should the classes cover?

Pregnancy Health
This is all about taking care of mums-to-be, from the basics like eating well and what foods to avoid, to any immunisations you might need during pregnancy. You'll also learn about keeping active during pregnancy and what activities you should avoid, as well as signs of discomfort to look out for.

Labour
From practical prep like packing your hospital bag to labour coping skills, antenatal classes can help prepare you for the physical marathon that is labour. You'll learn to recognise the signs and stages of labour, discover options for managing pain and get educated on any possible complications that can occur during labour. Meanwhile, your partner should come away with a good idea of their role during labour.

Birth
As well as educating you on the different birthing options available, you'll come away better informed about the different stages of the birthing process from your waters breaking to crowning. Along with breathing and relaxation techniques, you'll discover birthing positions and how to manage and time contractions. You'll also learn the importance of skin-to-skin contact straight after the birth and the changes that can occur in your body immediately after birth.

Newborn Care
You'll be prepped in parenthood and learn all about preparing your home for baby's arrival. What to buy (clothing essentials and nappies etc) as well as what furniture and bedding you need for baby. You'll also learn how to recognise and respond to your baby's needs, from bonding with them to settling them to sleep and responding to their cries.

Postnatal Care
You'll learn the importance of looking after yourself as well as baby in the weeks following birth, including the importance of a healthy diet and getting as much sleep as you can manage. You'll also learn to recognise the signs of postnatal depression and the importance of establishing a support network after birth. 

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