Structured antenatal education that is suited to the individual can help women to be informed about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Psychological preparation for parenthood may have benefits for parents’ mental health, parenting and infant development.
Structured education in preparation for childbirth and parenthood has come about as traditional methods of information sharing have declined (Gagnon & Sandall 2007). Many maternity health care providers, including public health departments, hospitals, private agencies and charities, and obstetricians’ and midwives’ practices, provide antenatal education for expectant parents. Antenatal education may be delivered one-on-one or in groups (eg in a women’s group, couples’ workshop or a class situation).
Antenatal education programs have a range of aims including (Gagnon & Sandall 2007):
- influencing health behaviours
- preparing women and their partners for childbirth, including building women’s confidence in their ability to labour and give birth
- preparing women for the pain of labour and supporting their ability to give birth without pain relief (Leap et al 2010)
- discussing breastfeeding
- enhancing maternal–fetal relationship (Rackett & Holmes 2010)
- preparing for parenthood (eg changes in relationships, physical and emotional needs of the baby, balancing the needs of the newborn and other children) and promoting confident parenting
- developing social support networks
- contributing to reducing perinatal morbidity and mortality.
Antenatal education programs generally cover a range of topics and may include:
- physical wellbeing (nutrition, physical activity, smoking, alcohol, oral health)
- emotional wellbeing and mental health during pregnancy and after the baby is born (maternal-fetal attachment, adapting to change, expectations, coping skills, knowing when to get help)
- labour (stages of labour, positions, breathing and relaxation, support, pain relief)
- birth (normal birth, assisted births, caesarean section, perineal tears)
- options for women with previous pregnancy or birth complications
- breastfeeding (skin-to-skin contact, benefits of early breastfeeding, attachment, breastfeeding as the physiological norm)
- early parenthood (normal newborn behaviour, settling, sleep safety, immunisation, infant attachment)
- ways to find support and build community networks after the baby is born.
Antenatal couple education programs, which aim to enhance the couple relationship and the parent–child relationship, are also available.
9.2 Discussing antenatal education
The evidence on antenatal education is heterogeneous, with outcomes measured including experience of birth and parenting, postnatal mental health and experience of antenatal education.
9.2.1 Knowledge and health behaviours
A Cochrane review found that women gain knowledge from antenatal education but that the effect of this knowledge on childbirth or parenthood remains largely unknown (Gagnon & Sandall 2007). A prospective cohort study found that 74% of first-time mothers considered that antenatal education helped them to prepare for childbirth but only 40% considered that the education helped them prepare for parenthood (Fabian et al 2005).
Low level evidence suggests that antenatal education may improve some health behaviours during pregnancy (eg nutrition, physical activity) (Mirmolaei et al 2010) and in early parenthood (eg prevention of sudden unexpected death in infancy [SUDI]) (Hesselink et al 2012).
9.2.2 Birth experience and outcomes
Studies have found no statistically significant difference in the overall birth experience between women who participate in antenatal education programs and those who do not Fabian et al 2005, Bergstrom et al 2009, Maimburg et al 2010. Studies into specific outcomes have found the following.
- Mode of birth: There is mixed evidence on the effect of antenatal education on mode of birth (Ferguson et al 2013). Antenatal education does not appear to significantly affect mode of birth among women in general Fabian et al 2005, Gagnon & Sandall 2007 or among women with a previous caesarean section (Gagnon & Sandall 2007). Specific education on bearing down technique in labour did not affect mode of birth (Phipps et al 2009). Including a component on the risks of induction in antenatal education decreased rates of non-medically indicated elective induction of labour (Simpson et al 2010).
- Pain: One study found that women who participated in antenatal education experienced lower levels of pain during birth (Ip et al 2009). Others have reported that participating women had lower epidural analgesia use (Maimburg et al 2010), higher analgesia use (Fabian et al 2005) or there was no difference in epidural analgesia use (Bergstrom et al 2009) or overall pain relief (Maimburg et al 2010).
- Self-diagnosis of labour: Women given education about self-diagnosis of labour pains had a higher rate of correct self-diagnosis than women who did not (Lumluk & Kovavisarach 2011). However, a small systematic review found no evidence of criteria for identifying labour (Lauzon & Hodnett 2009).
While the overall experience and outcomes of birth do not seem to be affected by antenatal education, there is some evidence that it reduces anxiety about the birth Maestas 2003, Ahmadian heris et al 2009, Ip et al 2009, Artieta-Pinedo et al 2010, Ferguson et al 2013, increases use of coping strategies (Escott et al 2005) and partner involvement (Ferguson et al 2013) and that participants experience greater childbirth self-efficacy (Ip et al 2009).
Advise parents that antenatal education programs are effective in providing information about pregnancy, childbirth and parenting but do not influence mode of birth.
Approved by NHMRC in June 2014; expires June 2019
9.2.3 Psychological preparation for parenthood
Studies into the inclusion of psychological preparation for parenthood in antenatal care vary in the content covered. Studies have found that at 6 weeks after the birth:
- women with depression antenatally who participated in antenatal group education focusing on coping skills, recognising distress and seeking help had a reduced risk of subsequent postnatal depression (odds ratio [OR] 0.83; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.65–0.98; n=1,719) (Kozinszky et al 2012)
- women who participated in antenatal sessions focusing on coping skills, cognitive restructuring, problem-solving and decision-making skills had an overall reduction in depressive symptoms compared with women in the control group (mean Chinese EPDS score 6.5 vs 8.9) and the effect persisted at 6 months (5.8 vs 7.6; n=184) (Ngai et al 2009)
- women who participated in antenatal interpersonal psychotherapy had fewer depressive symptoms (changes in EPDS score: –1.56 vs 0.94; n=194) and greater satisfaction with interpersonal relationships than women who received only antenatal education (Gao et al 2010)
- antenatal education on psychosocial issues associated with parenthood had a positive effect on mood (mean EPDS score 4.5 compared with 11.4 at baseline; n=268) in women who reported low self-esteem antenatally (but not those with medium or high self-esteem antenatally) and partners were significantly more aware of the woman’s experience of parenthood (Matthey et al 2004).
Include psychological preparation for parenthood as part of antenatal care as this has a positive effect on women’s mental health postnatally.
Approved by NHMRC in June 2014; expires June 2019
Small randomised controlled trials (RCTs) have reported benefits from antenatal couple education programs that aim to enhance the couple relationship and the parent-child relationship Shapiro & Gottman 2005, Feinberg et al 2010, Shapiro et al 2011, Petch et al 2012.
9.2.4 Parents’ experience of antenatal education
Parents have expressed satisfaction with antenatal education as preparation for childbirth Fabian et al 2005, Bergstrom et al 2011. Mothers who were young, single, with a low level of education, living in a small city or who smoked were less likely to find the classes helpful (Fabian et al 2005). Male participants valued the inclusion of an all-male session (Friedewald et al 2005).
Studies into parents’ preferences for antenatal education have found that the following factors are valued:
- style of education: information provided by a health professional in person rather than sole use of other impersonal media (Nolan 2009) and using a range of learning strategies (Svensson et al 2008)
- discussion: parents value being encouraged to ask questions, seek clarification, and relate information to their own circumstances Svensson et al 2006, Nolan 2009
- social networking: one of the core aims of antenatal education is to assist women to develop social support networks Fabian et al 2005, Svensson et al 2006, Svensson et al 2008
- group size: small peer groups encourage participants to get to know and support each other, while larger groups make it harder for women to ask questions (Nolan 2009)
- practising skills: parents value experiential learning with plenty of opportunity to practise hands-on skills Svensson et al 2006, Svensson et al 2008
- content: parents have expressed a preference for antenatal education to include more information on psychoprophylaxis during labour (Bergstrom et al 2011), psychological care (Holroyd et al 2011), preparation for parenthood Svensson et al 2006, Bergstrom et al 2011, Holroyd et al 2011 and breastfeeding (Svensson et al 2006)
- timing of education: education is helpful early in pregnancy when information needs are high (Svensson et al 2006), with a component offered postnatally Nolan 2009, Svensson et al 2009.
Assisting parents to find an antenatal education program that is suitable to their learning style, language and literacy level may improve uptake of information.
Approved by NHMRC in June 2014; expires June 2019
9.3 Practice summary: antenatal education
At an early antenatal visit.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioner
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker
- multicultural health worker
- Discuss the benefits of antenatal education
Explain that, while antenatal education is unlikely to change the mode of birth, it may help women to prepare for the birth. It is also a good opportunity to establish a network of peers and to develop skills for adapting to parenthood.
- Involve partner and/or family
Discuss the benefits of partners and/or other family members attending antenatal education with the woman.
- Provide information
Support antenatal education by asking women about any topics on which they would like additional information and suggesting or providing appropriate resources (eg written materials suitable to the woman’s level of literacy, audio or video, web sources).
- Take a holistic approach
Give information about locally available antenatal education programs and assist women to select a program that is suitable for them. Give expectant parents booklets/ handouts relating to emotional health and wellbeing during pregnancy and early parenthood.
9.4.1 Consumer resources
- Pregnancy, birth and baby
Helpline 1800 882 436
- National Prescribing Service
- Better Health Channel
- Smart Eating for You
- Raising children
- Australian Breastfeeding Association
- Eat for Health
- Safe infant sleeping
Resources specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women
- NSW Health Strong Women Strong Babies Pregnancy Diary.
- Remote Primary Health Care Manuals. (2017). Antenatal education and birth planning. In: Women’s Business Manual (6th edition). Alice Springs, NT: Centre for Remote Health.
- Remote Primary Health Care Manuals. (2017). CARPA Standard Treatment Manual (7th edition). Alice Springs, NT: Centre for Remote Health.
- Western Australia Department of Health. Having a Baby — Aboriginal resources.
- Multicultural Health (Queensland Health): Pregnancy and postnatal topics
- NSW Multicultural Health Communication Service: Pregnancy and postnatal topics
Mental health resources, referral and advice
Sources of reliable online health information
- Ahmadian heris S, Taghavi S, Hoseininsasab D (2009) The effect of antenatal educational interventions on state-trait anxiety in the parturition process (P476). Int J Gynaecol Obstet 107S2: S548.
- Artieta-Pinedo I, Paz-Pascual C, Grandes G et al (2010) The benefits of antenatal education for the childbirth process in Spain.Nurs Res59(3): 194–202.
- Bergstrom M, Kieler H, Waldenstrom U (2009) Effects of natural childbirth preparation versus standard antenatal education on epidural rates, experience of childbirth and parental stress in mothers and fathers: a randomised controlled multicentre trial.BJOG116(9): 1167–76.
- Bergstrom M, Kieler H, Waldenstrom U (2011) A randomised controlled multicentre trial of women’s and men’s satisfaction with two models of antenatal education.Midwifery27(6): e195–200.
- Escott D, Slade P, Spiby H et al (2005) Preliminary evaluation of a coping strategy enhancement method of preparation for labour.Midwifery21(3): 278–91.
- Fabian HM, Radestad IJ, Waldenstrom U (2005) Childbirth and parenthood education classes in Sweden. Women’s opinion and possible outcomes.Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand84(5): 436–43.
- Feinberg ME, Jones DE, Kan ML et al (2010) Effects of family foundations on parents and children: 3.5 years after baseline.J Fam Psychol24(5): 532–42.
- Ferguson S, Davis D, Browne J (2013) Does antenatal education affect labour and birth? A structured review of the literature.Women Birth: e5–8.
- Friedewald M, Fletcher R, Fairbairn H (2005) All-male discussion forums for expectant fathers: evaluation of a model.J Perinat Educ14(2): 8–18.
- Gagnon AJ & Sandall J (2007) Individual or group antenatal education for childbirth or parenthood, or both.Cochrane Database Syst Rev(3): CD002869.
- Gao LL, Chan SW, Li X et al (2010) Evaluation of an interpersonal-psychotherapy-oriented childbirth education programme for Chinese first-time childbearing women: a randomised controlled trial.Int J Nurs Stud47(10): 1208–16.
- Hesselink AE, van Poppel MN, van Eijsden M et al (2012) The effectiveness of a perinatal education programme on smoking, infant care, and psychosocial health for ethnic Turkish women.Midwifery28(3): 306–13.
- Holroyd E, Twinn S, Ip WY (2011) Chinese women’s perception of effectiveness of antenatal education.Brit J Midwifery19(2): 92–98.
- Ip WY, Tang CS, Goggins WB (2009) An educational intervention to improve women’s ability to cope with childbirth.J Clin Nurs18(15): 2125–35.
- Kozinszky Z, Dudas RB, Devosa I et al (2012) Can a brief antepartum preventive group intervention help reduce postpartum depressive symptomatology?Psychother Psychosom81(2): 98–107.
- Lauzon L & Hodnett E (2009) Antenatal education for self-diagnosis of the onset of active labour at term.Cochrane Database Syst Rev(2): CD000935.
- Leap N, Sandall J, Buckland S et al (2010) Journey to confidence: women’s experiences of pain in labour and relational continuity of care.J Midwifery Womens Health55(3): 234–42.
- Lumluk T & Kovavisarach E (2011) Effect of antenatal education for better self-correct diagnosis of true labor: a randomized control study.J Med Assoc Thai94(7): 772–74.
- Maestas LM (2003) The effect of prenatal education on the beliefs and perceptions of childbearing women.Int J Childbirth Ed18(1): 17–21.
- Maimburg RD, Vaeth M, Durr J et al (2010) Randomised trial of structured antenatal training sessions to improve the birth process.BJOG117(8): 921–28.
- Matthey S, Kavanagh DJ, Howie P et al (2004) Prevention of postnatal distress or depression: an evaluation of an intervention at preparation for parenthood classes.J Affect Disord79(1-3): 113–26.
- Mirmolaei ST, Moshrefi M, Kazemnejad A et al (2010) Effect of antenatal preparation courses on the health behaviours of pregnant women. Abstracts of the XXII European Congress of Perinatal Medicine PS105.Journal of Fetal Neonatal Medicine23(Suppl 1): 138.
- Ngai FW, Chan SW, Ip WY (2009) The effects of a childbirth psychoeducation program on learned resourcefulness, maternal role competence and perinatal depression: a quasi-experiment.Int J Nurs Stud46(10): 1298–306.
- Nolan ML (2009) Information giving and education in pregnancy: a review of qualitative studies.J Perinat Educ18(4): 21–30.
- Petch JF, Halford WK, Creedy DK et al (2012) A randomized controlled trial of a couple relationship and coparenting program (Couple CARE for Parents) for high- and low-risk new parents.J Consult Clin Psychol80(4): 662–73.
- Phipps H, Charlton S, Dietz HP (2009) Can antenatal education influence how women push in labour?Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol49(3): 274–78.
- Rackett P & Holmes BM (2010) Enhancing the attachment relationship: A prenatal perspective.Educ Child Psychol27(3): 33–50.
- Shapiro AF & Gottman JM (2005) Effects on marriage of a psycho-communicative-educational intervention with couples undergoing the transition to parenthood, evaluation at 1-year post intervention.J Fam Comm5(1): 1–24.
- Shapiro AF, Nahm EY, Gottman JM et al (2011) Bringing baby home together: examining the impact of a couple-focused intervention on the dynamics within family play.Am J Orthopsychiatry81(3): 337–50.
- Simpson KR, Newman G, Chirino OR (2010) Patient education to reduce elective labor inductions.MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs35(4): 188–94.
- Svensson J, Barclay L, Cooke M (2006) The concerns and interests of expectant and new parents: assessing learning needs.J Perinat Educ15(4): 18–27.
- Svensson J, Barclay L, Cooke M (2008) Effective antenatal education: strategies recommended by expectant and new parents.J Perinat Educ17(4): 33–42.
- Svensson J, Barclay L, Cooke M (2009) Randomised-controlled trial of two antenatal education programmes.Midwifery25(2): 114–25.