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Maternal and paternal expectations of antenatal education across the transition to parenthood

02 April 2019
Volume 27 · Issue 4



Understanding parents' expectations of the knowledge and skills that they will acquire during antenatal classes provides an opportunity to tailor classes more closely to their needs.


To explore whether a programme of antenatal classes met parents' expectations across the transition to parenthood.


This study used research evaluation data to explore parents' expectations from antenatal classes as they transitioned from pregnancy to the postnatal period.


Findings indicated that expectant mothers and fathers had different learning needs at different times, and that while expectant mothers were clear about what they want to know from classes, fathers entered classes with unspecific learning needs. These became slightly more focused as pregnancy progresses, but generally speaking, remained fairly vague.


Understanding parents expectations of antenatal classes, and exploring the value of classes among attendees has the potential to result in improved attendance, reduced dropout rates and overall greater satisfaction.

Supporting parents-to-be through antenatal education classes has been recognised as an important prevention and intervention strategy (Department of Health, 2011). Key policy documents have highlighted the need for pregnant women to be offered opportunities to attend participant-led antenatal classes (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2018), and in recent years there has been an increasing expectation for men to play a more active role in childbirth and preparation for parenting. A reviewed commissioned by the Department of Health and undertaken by Schrader McMillan et al (2009) identified gaps in provision and areas for improvement, in order to make classes more engaging and to meet the requirements of today's expectant parents.

A number of antenatal education programmes have been developed over the past few decades. A variety of approaches and models exist, with generic key features (Jaddoe, 2009). Despite a growing interest in how best to suit the needs of parents-to-be with respect to antenatal education, there is still a concern that antenatal education may not be meeting the needs and expectations of parents-to-be, particularly fathers. Findings from a large Swedish study to assess parent's expectations of antenatal education indicated that an increased focus on preparation for parenthood was the most common request, when expectant parents were asked to state what they most wanted from classes (Ahldén et al, 2012). Smyth et al (2015), reflecting on the findings from a literature review into the effectiveness of antenatal education preparation on fathers' transition to parenthood, suggested that the traditional focus of antenatal education on the needs of expectant women has led to the specific needs of fathers being overlooked. In a study of first-time fathers' experiences of antenatal preparation, in relation to the challenges met in early parenthood, Palsson et al (2017) found that fathers' preferences varied with respect to structure and delivery, with some fathers believing that the environment was not conducive to ‘opening up’. Overall findings showed that fathers wanted clear and honest information about the realities of life with a new baby (Palsson et al, 2017). Despite the growing evidence base, from which the content and the delivery style of antenatal education can be drawn, there are still gaps in knowledge about what parents-to-be expect from classes, and what they consider valuable.

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