Taking some time out to prepare emotionally, physically and practically for the birth of your baby and the challenges of early parenthood can help get family life off to a great start.
It can also be a nice way to meet other mums (and dads) expecting a baby around the same time as you!
In Belgium you’ll find a whole range of classes, from one-off ‘information sessions’, to ‘general’ prenatal classes that cover various aspects of labour and birth and the early postnatal period, to prenatal yoga, aquanatal classes, prenatal singing and many more.
While there is a bigger choice of classes in French and Dutch, it is possible to find classes in English, or where various languages are spoken.
Here we look at some of the following types of class:
- one-off information sessions
- general prenatal courses
- prenatal physiotherapy
- prenatal yoga
- aquanatal classes
- sessions with a doula
- other courses
Find out about prenatal fitness classes here.
One-off information sessions
The Brussels Childbirth Trust (BCT)’s Pregnancy in Belgium information session is a good place to start to find out the basics and ask questions.
Ideal for anyone hoping to conceive, or in early pregnancy, sessions typically explore choices in care provider and place of birth, financial and administrative aspects, support and resources.
These sessions are very popular, but spaces are limited, so book early.
‘General’ prenatal courses
These courses usually have around 12-14 hours of ‘class’ time, which may take place in the evening and/or during longer weekend sessions.
It’s typically recommended that you aim to complete your course by around 36/37 weeks of pregnancy. Classes are usually with around 8-9 couples in total – same-sex couples and single attendees are of course warmly welcomed. During the COVID-19 period, classes are online.
Many independent midwives also offer prenatal classes (read more about the role of the independent midwife in Pregnancy > Pregnancy care > Who looks after me?), whether individually or in small groups. See Find a midwife for more information on finding a midwife.
What do courses cover?
They cover a wide variety of topics, and typically include a mixture of discussion, information and practical activities that aim to empower parents-to-be and help them to make informed decisions during pregnancy, birth and parenthood.
Whilst attending a prenatal course may not affect perceptions of labour pain or the rates of straightforward birth, studies show that they do improve satisfaction with the birth experience (McMillan, Barlow & Redshaw, 2009).
Prenatal courses focus on providing you not only with evidenced-based information but also with the skills you need to make your own decisions about labour and birth – decision-making skills that will serve you well throughout parenting.
They also allow you to explore the practical and emotional aspects of giving birth and becoming parents that are most relevant to you. Partners (if present) are involved throughout the course, and discover ways to support mums-to-be and to recognise and address their own needs.
Meeting other parents-to-be
Courses also offer a great start to building social networks and friendships that can carry on long after the birth.
Many people attending English-language prenatal courses are also expats, so they understand what it’s like being far from home at such a special time in their lives. And the small group sizes give you the chance to develop a support and friendship network that can last long after the course finishes.
In Belgium, many women attend prenatal physiotherapy (‘kiné prénatal’ / ‘prenatale kinesitherapie’) sessions as a way to prepare for birth – read more about the role of the physiotherapist in Pregnancy > Pregnancy care > Who looks after me?.
Your ‘mutuelle’ / ‘ziekenfonds’ will partially reimburse nine sessions of physiotherapy per pregnancy, and your gynaecologist midwife will give you a ‘prescription’ for these sessions around the fifth month of pregnancy. Note: only individual sessions are officially reimbursed by the mutuelle.
Many physiotherapists also offer group classes which may include: gentle exercise during pregnancy; ways to overcome some pregnancy discomforts; overview of what to expect during labour; advice on coping with contractions including positions and breathing and relaxation techniques. These are in theory not reimbursed by the mutuelle.
Mums usually attend these classes alone, and some physiotherapists also run classes where partners can come along to learn how to support the mum during labour.
See Find a physiotherapist for more information on finding a physiotherapist.
What if I need more than nine sessions of physiotherapy?
In addition to the nine sessions of perinatal physiotherapy per pregnancy, each calendar year it is possible to have a total of 18 sessions for a specific reason (i.e. two additional prescriptions of nine sessions each).
So, any extra sessions you need after the birth can be taken under the umbrella of ‘pelvic floor re-education’.
Prenatal yoga is a gentle form of yoga that keeps you in shape during pregnancy, explores positions that can be useful during labour and birth, and bring awareness to the importance of calm breathing and relaxation for a low-stress pregnancy and birth.
Sophie Girard-Sequeira runs Yoga for pregnancy and birth classes that combine the benefits of yoga with effective physical and mental preparation for labour and birth. Classes include the use of gravity and the breath in gentle yoga movements, the practice of positions for labour and birth, breathing practice for labour and birth, and relaxation and visualisation to help you connect with your growing baby. Online booking available. Sophie also offers private hypnobirthing classes and doula guidance sessions.
Johanna Tilly (see Johanna’s village profile and Facebook page) is an internationally certified and experienced yoga teacher, specialised in pre- and postnatal yoga and yoga for stress management. Her prenatal yoga classes are suitable from 14 weeks until birth. Johanna offers individual and group classes at her studio, privately in your home, and also near the European Institutions. Contact Johanna at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about the classes she’s currently running. Johanna also offers hypnobirthing, baby massage, prenatal fitness, and doula services.
Hypnobirthing is method of birth preparation that helps the mother to reach a state of mental and physical relaxation that allows for a calm and peaceful birth.
Sophie Girard-Sequeira offers private Hypnobirthing classes where you’ll learn all about the physiological principles of relaxation for birth, and breathing and visualisation techniques in a way that will help you achieve a more relaxed state of mind before and during the birth. Sophie also offers prenatal yoga classes and doula guidance sessions.
Johanna Tilly (see Johanna’s village profile and Facebook page) is an internationally certified and experienced hypnobirthing practitioner, offering workshops for expectant mums and their partners. She is also a doula, yoga teacher, and offers baby massage and prenatal fitness. Johanna offers classes at her studio in Linkebeek as well as online. Contact her at email@example.com to find out more about classes she’s currently running.
Prenatal aquagym classes ideally take place in a pool heated to around 32°, and partners are usually welcome too.
Classes usually consist of gentle exercises for overall fitness as well as breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that can be useful in labour. Many women particularly enjoy the freedom of movement that water provides (the buoyancy of the water means you only experience about 30% of your weight), especially later in pregnancy.
- Poseidon offers prenatal aquagym classes
Some hospitals also organise prenatal aquagym classes – ask your gynaecologist or hospital.
Sessions with a doula
Even if you don’t plan to have a doula support you during labour and birth, a doula can help you prepare by answering questions you might have, helping you understand your choices and rights, and helping you reflect on the kind of birth experience you would like to have.
Other kinds of prenatal courses
As well as multi-session courses, there are also other types of course on offer, whether providing condensed information for those with limited time, or focusing on specific aspects.
Sophie Girard-Sequeira runs private 2-hour Birth preparation for couples sessions which aim to boost confidence and help couples prepare for a positive labour and birth experience (whether it is your first birth or you’d like a refresher class — classes are tailored to your particular situation). Topics covered: principles of a physiological birth through the practice of movements, positions, and breathing techniques and simple comfort measures partners can provide at birth (such as massage and breathing support).
Antenatal and Baby runs the following courses, which are partially reimbursed by the mutuelle. Note that online and in-person options are on offer, with the necessary social distancing for in-person classes.
- Planning and pregnancy – a 30-minute private session that caters to your individual needs, covering administrative aspects of pregnancy and birth, passport/nationality issues, hospital policies, reimbursements and entitlements, and creche bookings.
- Breastfeeding 2-hour workshop – this is included within the Antenatal and Baby 6-session course, but can also be taken as a stand-alone workshop. Midwife Jo Everatt who runs Antenatal and Baby describes this as an “empowering session that is the vital first step towards understanding breastfeeding.”
- Survive Labour Ward – 4-hour practical workshop that covers recognition of the onset of labour, the labour process, techniques of coping and positions to accentuate efficiency, and birth.
- Breathing techniques – a 1-hour workshop (online only) on different breathing techniques to cope with the changing intensities of labour contractions. Co-led by midwife Jo Everatt and mindfulness teacher Jessica Evsen of https://www.twowings.eu/.
- ‘Postpartum – Your questions answered’ – a 3-hour live online workshop for expectant mums/couples who are planning ahead AND for new mums and dads. Covers the early days and weeks of parenthood including neonatal care, baby feeding, introducing the new family member to older siblings and pets, postpartum depression, getting back in shape, sleeping arrangements and more.
- ‘Breath, relaxation, massage & positions for birth‘ – a 2-hour online workshop for anyone interested in a positive birthing experience using yogic breathing techniques. The workshop covers how the female body and hormones work during labour and birth; the fear, tension, pain cycle; breathing, relaxation and massage techniques; positions that help during labour.
Johanna offers group and individual classes both online and in person. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about classes she’s currently running and in which format.