Is the future of antenatal learning online?

online couple
online couple 

Seeing the need for an alternative to what has been available in the past, three midwives have created Australia's first online antenatal classes. Is this the future for pregnancy education?

Since the dawn of the world wide web, pregnant women have been using the Internet to calculate their due dates, browse baby names and connect with other expectant mothers in parenting forums. But while some mums-to-be are busy googling unusual pregnancy symptoms or shopping for maternity wear, others are logging on to online antenatal classes.

The creation of three practicing midwifes, BornOnline is Australia’s first online antenatal class. Co-founder Zoe Ryan says that she and her colleagues were seeing a lot of women who hadn’t attended traditional antenatal classes, and she says there was a knock-on effect in the birthing suite.

“Women were becoming very anxious during their labour. They didn’t know what to expect,” she explains.

While hospital-led antenatal classes were available to all pregnant women and their partners, many were unable to attend because the classes were being held at inconvenient times. Ryan and her colleagues Ebony Young and Alinta Munro wanted to provide women with an alternative. “We knew there had to be another way,” explains Ryan. 

The online classes are made up of a series of videos, fact sheets and an ‘ask the midwife’ email service. BornOnline are able to cover a wider range of topics (particularly caring for a newborn) and go into greater detail than face-to-face classes because the only time restriction they face is the due date of their client.  

Since launching in May 2013, BornOnline have had 150 participants, and Ryan says that the feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive. 

Shift worker Ayleece Reading says the convenience of BornOnline worked well for her and her partner, who is away for weeks at a time in his mining job. “We were able to watch the videos together and discuss our options when my fiancé was at home. The videos were helpful and informative,” she says.

Another benefit of the online classes is that the videos are still available to women after they have given birth, something Ayleece found particularly useful. “I could re-watch the breastfeeding and bathing videos to ensure that I was doing it correctly. The classes led me step by step.”

While online classes are thorough, they don't provide expectant parents the chance to discuss their concerns in person, says Liz Wilkes, midwife and spokesperson for Midwifes Australia. “You cannot overestimate the opportunity that talking about things with other people provides to settle nerves, clear up misconceptions and gain insight into what is before you,” she says.  

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Wilkes says that attending face-to-face classes help to “normalise” the birthing process, and provides expectant parents with a chance to talk through their fears in a supportive environment, adding, “Face-to-face classes give you the chance to talk to others, to seek feedback and see what other people are going through.”

The opportunity to meet other women in the same boat is particularly important for expectant mothers who don't know other women with young babies, a situation that Tegan Churchill found herself in when she was pregnant with her son Dylan.

Tegan finished the class feeling well prepared, but she had also made a good friend, whom she is still in touch with four years on. “It was great to meet and become friends with someone who shares my parenting style. Our boys are three weeks apart and are the best of friends,” she says.

Unfortunately, traditional antenatal classes don’t work well for everyone. Emma Healy, who was 17 at the time of her first pregnancy, stopped attending antenatal classes after just two sessions because she felt “judged and excluded” by the other participants. Emma says that despite reading a number of birthing books she wasn’t fully prepared for the birth of her child.

Had an online class been available, Emma believes that it would have worked well for her. “I think an online class would have been perfect for someone in my situation,” she says, “I would have felt much more comfortable.”