Interview with Louise Morrison, Founder of Antenatal Online

When and why was Antenatal Online set up?

Antenatal Online offers video based, midwife-led antenatal classes and pregnancy support and was launched in April 2011. When I was pregnant with my first baby, NHS (National Health Service) classes had been cut in our area which left us with the relatively expensive options of NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes or another private class run by NHS midwives. Given NHS cuts were set to continue to affect antenatal provision I felt that parents-to-be needed a more affordable alternative. However it wasn’t until after I had given birth that I really appreciated how important good antenatal classes were.

I was particularly terrified of giving birth and so in addition to the traditional class I had also done Hypnobirthing. In the end I had a water birth at home and a really positive birth experience, but not everyone I knew had been so lucky. Out of the ten couples who had attended my traditional class only one other mum had had a good experience and I started to wonder whether this had anything to do with the quality of the education we had received.

With the rise of video on the internet and continuing NHS cuts which were affecting antenatal provision I felt that good quality classes, available nationally were the way forward. I started researching and a year later the site was launched with the help of two really passionate and knowledgeable NHS midwives.

Who is it aimed at?

We wanted to offer an affordable alternative for people who either couldn’t access any antenatal classes or for those who for whatever reason didn’t want to attend face to face classes but still wanted to prepare themselves for labour and birth. The classes are ideal for busy couples whose schedules may not allow them to attend classes together or for those who prefer to learn from the privacy and comfort of their own home. The service is really aimed at first time mums and dads-to-be who really don’t know what to expect, but that said we have had a few second time mums who have benefited from the classes, maybe because of a long gap between pregnancies or a previous traumatic labour. We have been told by one woman with 4 children that she found out things about labour and birth she hadn’t previously been aware of from watching our classes!

How much is your site used by Mums-to-be living abroad? Where do they tend to live?

At the moment about 16% of our members are UK mums-to-be, living abroad, normally in non-English speaking countries. We have had members from as far afield as the Caribbean and Singapore but we also have had quite a few from Europe, including Germany and Sweden. We also get a fair few people accessing from New Zealand. I think that when you are pregnant for the first time and living abroad it can be quite reassuring to be able to access advice from NHS midwives.

What kind of response have you had since its launch?

We have had a really encouraging response. People welcome the fact that the site is offering an alternative to face to face classes – not everyone is comfortable in a class environment. In addition in many areas of the UK classes are either oversubscribed or prohibitively expensive – we hope that we offer something that is high quality, really flexible but a bit more affordable. We have also had really positive feedback on the content of the classes.

How are you able to give personalized advice via the internet?

The classes themselves teach mums and dads-to-be about the process of labour and birth, how hormones work during labour, the mechanics of labour, pain relief options etc. We go into a lot of detail on all this because we believe that if mums-to-be understand what is going on and grasp the fact that their bodies are designed to give birth, then we can help to strip away the fear of labour and birth and hopefully bring about a more positive birth experience and birth outcome.

This information is obviously the same for everyone but if members have additional questions or need more advice our midwives are available to answer questions via email. Unfortunately we can’t really give specific medical advice online given that we don’t have access to our member’s maternity or medical records and we would always advise that if they do have concerns about their health or that of their baby then they go and see their doctor or midwife.

What tools do you use to give advice? How much does it cost?

As far as midwife support goes, anyone who subscribes to our classes also gets free email access to our midwives to ask any questions that they may have that were not answered by their classes. We offer two classes, an active birth class [£65] which comprises 11 videos and the breastfeeding and postnatal class [£25] which is split into 5 videos. We also have a Facebook group to allow anyone to seek advice and support from other parents, mums-to-be or our midwife.

Do dads-to-be also use Antenatal Online? How can it help them?

I think there are probably lots of men who are slightly reticent when it comes to antenatal classes. I know my husband and to a lesser extent even me, dreaded going to face to face classes. Also, every dad-to-be is different and some may want to know everything while others feel that they don’t want or need to know anything at all. I would say however that the better prepared birth partners are the more support they can be if and when support is needed.

Our classes can help dads to understand the labour and birth process so they have a better idea about what is happening during the various stages of labour. We cover the pain relief options available and look at the various interventions which may be required. All this information will come in useful at a time when their partner is vulnerable and may not be able or willing to speak up as she normally would.

For those dads who do not relish the traditional class our classes are ideal. Dads can get all the information they will need from the comfort of the sofa and can watch as much or as little as they personally feel that they need to.

Do you think that mums-to-be should also attend antenatal classes as well as using advice from your website?

I think many mums-to-be welcome the chance to go to face to face classes because if you get a sociable group it can be here where you meet a circle of friends you may have for the first few years of your baby’s life and often beyond. However from a point of view of preparing yourself for you labour and birth and those first few days with your baby, our classes offer everything parents-to-be will need to know – as much if not more than a traditional class would. I would say that we offer a comprehensive package which means that no further information is really required. We do find that we don’t actually get many questions asked of our midwives via email because we really have covered all bases.

Do you advise all future mums to have a birth plan?

Our midwives would rather we called them birth preferences but yes, spending some time thinking about what you ideally want to happen in your labour and birth can only be beneficial. The key is to not be too rigid. Birth can be unpredictable and sometimes things don’t go entirely as you would have wanted them to. You need to be prepared for the fact that things may change and you may not be able to achieve your ideal birth for reasons outside of anyone’s control. If you are starting to think about your labour and birth, have a look at our free tool on the site to get some ideas as to the sort of things your birth preferences could include.

How much postnatal support do you give?

We currently offer breastfeeding and early days support in our postnatal class. This will help parents-to-be to prepare for issues they may have with sleep, nappies, emotions and relationships and newborn health. It also offers a guide to what to expect from breastfeeding for those mums-to-be who are planning to feed their baby themselves.

How can people find you?
Some UK midwives do have our flyers at surgeries but for those of you whose midwife doesn’t yet have leaflets or indeed our mums-to-be abroad, we are at you can also say hi on Facebook and Twitter.

Carrie Frais
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