When it became clear to Hawke’s Bay birth educator Janine Gard that a lockdown was imminent, and physical distancing was likely here to stay for some time, she knew she had to act fast.
With one local class of expectant parents already underway in Havelock North and more classes, in Napier and Hastings, scheduled to start a week into lockdown, Gard jumped online and gave herself a crash course in Zoom.
“Preparing to have your first baby is already a stressful time for many mums and dads to be,” says Gard, “and having your planned antenatal classes suddenly cancelled would have been an added pressure these parents didn’t need. I knew I needed to find a solution and figure out a way forward for my classes.”
She says the idea of developing live, online antenatal classes had already crossed her mind as a possible future extension of the face-to-face group classes and individual coaching she offers through her business, From Bellies to Babies. With 15 years of antenatal education under her belt, she felt well placed to expedite her plans – although she says it was nerve-wracking to begin with.
“I wasn’t sure how people would react to getting together and learning about childbirth in this setting, particularly when it came to sharing the more intimate details of their pregnancies, their fears and anxieties, as well as things like discussions on birthing positions. But it’s worked really well. My clients say they love how fun and interactive the classes are and I know I, for one, look forward to each get-together,” says Gard.
Gard says she chose live video platform Zoom over using pre-recorded videos “because it’s important to have that real human connection, that immediacy, and for people to be able to ask questions and air concerns when they spring to mind. I set up a closed Facebook group for each class as well, so that the parents within that group can socialise virtually, maybe share their wedding photos or pictures of their fur babies, and this becomes their coffee group once their babies are born.”
For more complex matters such as details on labouring, Gard also creates additional resources which she uploads to YouTube to be accessed in her clients’ own time. And given the model’s success, she’s now ready to go nationwide with her services, offering group classes to parents up and down New Zealand, from the comfort of their own homes.
“I know there are parents-to-be living in quite isolated and rural communities, and for them, getting to physical classes can be near impossible. There are also plenty of women for whom antenatal classes have ceased indefinitely, under the current Covid-19 regulations,” says Gard.
“I see online antenatal education as a fantastic option for these men and women who still want, and need, practical advice and support, as well as the social interaction, companionship and friendship that comes from the online coffee group.”
Antenatal classes usually start when mothers are around 28 weeks’ pregnant and run over several weeks. Topics covered include healthy nutrition, pregnancy concerns and warning signs, preparing for the birth, positions during labour, birth interventions such as caesarean sections, breastfeeding and caring for a new baby.