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 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. See 'Time off work and antenatal classes' below.
COVID-19 and pregnancy
If you are pregnant and think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, contact your GP. Most women who test positive and have mild symptoms can safely self-isolate at home (7 days). Routine antenatal or ultrasound appointments should be postponed until after the period of self-isolation.
Pregnant women who have COVID-19 should only attend the hospital if in need of urgent medical or obstetric care. 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.
If you have not had any COVID-19 vaccines, you can get your first round of COVID-19 vaccination or first booster at any stage of your pregnancy.
If you had a booster dose during your current pregnancy, then a second booster dose is not needed.
If you had a booster dose before this pregnancy, you can get your second booster at or after 16 weeks of your pregnancy.
Find more information on getting the COVID-19 vaccine during pregnancy, and getting the vaccine while trying for a baby or breastfeeding on the HSE website.
If you are unsure about whether to get a vaccination before, during or after pregnancy, you can read the HSE’s information booklet (pdf).
Some face-to-face antenatal classes are 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 (National Maternity Hospital) and the Learning Hub (Rotunda Hospital).
Check with your maternity unit or hospital about any face-to-face and online resources that are available. Find your local maternity unit or hospital.
Choosing an antenatal class
If you are unsure about which antenatal class to attend, talk to your maternity hospital, GP, midwife or public health nurse. They can offer you guidance on what class would suit your specific needs.
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 hospitals and services offer vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) antenatal classes.
Other topics that may be covered in your antenatal class:
- Keeping well 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 book your preferred classes as early as possible. You can find contact information for public hospitals here.
Time off work and antenatal classes
If 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.