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We signed up for the NCT antenatal sessions for personal reasons but were also offered the NHS antenatal sessions. Obviously, we decided to go to both. More information, the chance to go over things again, meet more people and it has finally given me the chance to experience what it’s like to be top of the class as I knew the answers already. 

I guess some people have the NCT vs NHS debate with their partners. That conversation probably revolves around whether you think paying for something that you can get for free is worth it or not. So, to help you with that conversation and decision, I’ve used our position of experiencing both to compile a list of things to think about. All the comments down the left are about the NCT and all the comments down the right are about NHS. All you need to do is read through and decide which side you fall on. 

*I must stress at this point that these are purely my thoughts and mere observations about my experience. This is not necessarily what all NCT and NHS classes are like and it certainly isn’t supposed to be list of good and bad points; just observations. 

Comfort of a hotel VS local sure start centre / play group classroom

Cushioned chairs with chair covers VS plastic chairs

Selection of different teas VS builders tea

Small group of 16 VS larger group of 22

Shirts, chinos & boat shoes (guilty) VS T-shirt, jeans & trainers

City professionals VS all sorts 

£270 VS £00.00

8 sessions VS 3 sessions

Topics covered in detail VS topics rushed somewhat 
(I know the ins and outs of the female anatomy, but at NHS we didn’t even cover it!)

Calm, relaxed attitude VS gotta get through this

Word processed laminate resources VS hand written pieces of card

Working model pelvis VS pelvis with no coxis 
(Without a coxis it seems remarkably easy to squeeze a baby through) 

Pro hospital birth VS pro birthing clinic / home birth

Relaxation techniques VS “you’ll be fine” mentality

Actual resources VS a homemade ‘knitted’ cervix

Diagrams, handouts & pictures VS hand drawn on flip chart paper
(I’m sure she would agree that she is not an artist! Her version of a ‘bumhole’ was something quite special.) 

30+ average age VS 25+ average age

Information emailed round between sessions VS no emails

Interactive, group work & informative ‘games’ VS a lot of listening

Active encouragement of creating a social support network for each other VS a photocopied list of emails

Really, it does boil down to money. In life it’s more often the case that you pay for what you get. If you pay for antenatal classes you should expect good resources, more sessions, more time and more detail. 

We preferred the NCT classes. For the sole reason that it covered things in more detail. There really isn’t anything wrong with the NHS sessions and it’s amazing that they are offered to everyone and so valuable. My recommendation is this: make sure you do 1 of them. If you can afford it, the NCT is great. 

About Al Ferguson

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Al Ferguson is the CEO and founder of The Dadsnet.
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  • What you’ve said here is very much in keeping with what I’ve heard from other people who’ve attended NCT classes. We’d have loved to have been able to go to an NCT class but unfortunately there weren’t any particularly close to where we live in North Wales. I guess that one of the benefits of the NHS is that they are probably able to offer antenatal classes in a lot more locations that the NCT.


  • We did both too. Personally, I had criticisms of both, but the NHS version was the more real scenario. Our NCT teacher told us to pack a bag as if we were having a romantic date night – because it’s special. Including nice lingerie and chocolates. She went on and on and on about how vital your birth plan is, and how the midwives will use it to make sure your birth is exactly as you want it to be. In short, she painted an idyllic picture of the perfect birth, from which many women I know departed feeling like they had failed.
    However, I would still say NCT is best, because I found life long friends through my NCT group.

    • Wow! Chocolates and lingerie??? That feels to me like a step too far. Our course leader wasn’t exactly like that, she did say pack the massage oils etc but did paint more of a painful and hard time. I guess that highlights that some course leaders are different. And you absolutely right, that is the benefit of NCT – friends for a lifetime. It’s not like you can’t make good friends at the NHS but you see the people less and there’s no active encouragement.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Its such a shame that NHS can’t offer more, having said that the private class we have visited had 5-6 couples, antenatal classes “hosts” used NCT materials, we were told that we need to stay at home as long as possible, as its a comfort of our own home. I did listen to their recommendations to stay at home plus hospital midwives thinking I have irregular contractions(perhaps should’ve listened to myself) meant I ended up calling ambulance as was pretty much was ready to give birth in my own bath.

  • I found that NCT did a lot of lobbying for non interventions during birth and in the case of nearly all of the women in my NCT group interventions were required and it was possibly the case that they felt a sense of failing. When they absolutely did not. Critically for us, our persistence with breast feeding was nearly fatal for our baby.

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