As soon as you find out you are pregnant, it is a good idea to consider attending antenatal classes because having a healthy pregnancy is one of the best ways to ensure you have a happy and healthy birth experience.

I attended antenatal classes mainly out of curiosity but later appreciated the knowledge got,” Joy Kirabo, a journalist, says adding: “While I did not want my first baby to have any problem I could have avoided, I was also curious about what goes on.”

While the first tests revealed nothing threatening, Kirabo says she learned the need to take extra care while using communal washrooms to prevent intra-uterine infections, exercises that ease delivery, the need to breath rather than push at a certain point during delivery and how to position the baby during breastfeeding.

“Even when I failed to give birth normally, I was at ease because whatever the doctor explained to me was not foreign,” she says. During the second pregnancy, it was discovered that she had low blood pressure but would never have known had she not learnt the warning signs to look out for during the antenatal classes.

“To start with, I got amazing friends from the classes that kept checking on me throughout my pregnancy,” Angela Birungi, a fashion designer states.

“The classes also calmed my fears about child birth, so when I got to the delivery room, it was a lot easier.” Birungi also shares that she did not have to carry unnecessary luggage to the hospital except the essentials, she knew when it was time to head to hospital for delivery thus avoided emergency delivery. Besides that, she learned about foods to avoid and those to eat in large quantities such as fruits and vegetables, exercises to boost blood circulation and how to keep her blood pressure normal.

When to start
Most women have varied ideas about when to go for these classes but Sr Juliet Agasiru, a midwife at Paragon Hospital, says: “A woman should start antenatal classes and visits as soon as they learn of their pregnancy because a number of tests are carried out and many other things are taught to prepare you for the pregnancy and child birth.”

Sr Agasiru says several blood tests are carried out such as HIV, Hepatitis B, blood group, blood sugar levels, malaria and a urine test is done to find out if one has a urinary tract infection and protein or glucose in the urine among others.
If you are HIV positive, you will be given ARVs thus lowering the viral load and keeping the baby safe from infection. The longer one stays without these drugs, the higher the chances of the baby getting infected.

If one has malaria and/or syphilis, it is treated. These two diseases are also called opportunistic illnesses as they can directly affect the unborn baby when left untreated and can open way for the HIV virus to get to the child.

Sr Agasiru adds that the pregnant woman is required to provide medical history; whether they suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma and surgical history such as abortion, miscarriage or any other surgery upon coming to the hospital. This information helps the health practitioners to know how to go about the pregnancy.

Besides the tests, the pregnancy is scanned. “This scan is very crucial. It establishes if your pregnancy is in the right place or if you have an ectopic pregnancy. While a child could grow in the stomach, they cannot grow in the fallopian tube; this one only lasts for six weeks before the tube containing the foetus bursts leading to anaemia and possible death,” Sr Agasiru says.

Relevance of classes
Agasiru, says the classes offer different advantages. For example, they are done for awareness purposes; if it is not for you, you will be able to help a relative or a neighbour.

For example, you will get to know about complications such as bleeding, preterm rapture of membrane and how to address them
Even for those that already have children; these classes might help you to rectify an issue that has been affecting the other children.

For example, if your children have been suffering from infections, you can learn that the water-like-milk that comes before the white milk; cholostrum will guard your baby against diarrhoea, malnutritions, and infections.

Unlike in the past, HIV+ mothers are now advised to exclusively breastfeed their children right from birth as they continue taking their medicine. This is because it has been discovered that while you are guarding against HIV transfer, you baby might die of diarrhoea, malnutritions, and infections which milk, more so colostrum guards against. This is information you’ll get from antenatal classes.

Family planning
Sr Agasiru, a midwife at Paragon Hospital, says there is a segment during the classes that focuses on family planning. You will know the various options available, how they work and which one is ideal for you. You will then be advised to return to the hospital, usually six weeks after delivery for postnatal check-up and family planning help.

For those with chronic illnesses, there is a lot taught about them during the classes, like care, signs and symptoms, management, and medication. For example one with hypertension, medication is given; the person is monitored, taught about signs of increased pressure levels as well as the relevance of taking regular pressure readings or how to do it themselves. This will help to avoid preeclampsia.

For mental illnesses, medication is given and persons are monitored. However, people need to understand that as any other body organ gets sick, so can the brain. Therefore, mental illness is not due to witchcraft and can be treated. Such information will be got from these classes.