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
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.
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.
See the village directory for a list of English-speaking / English-friendly prenatal yoga classes and teachers.
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.
See the village directory for a list of English-speaking / English-friendly hypnobirthing coaches.
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.
See the village directory for a list of locations offering prenatal aquagym classes.
Some hospitals also organise prenatal aquagym classes – ask your gynaecologist or hospital.
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