• Gillian Holmes

Antenatal Education, 1960's style!

These historic documents were shared with me recently by someone whose mother had taken National Childbirth Trust (NCT) classes in the 1960’s and as a current NCT teacher I find them fascinating. It’s interesting to see how things have changed – and stayed the same. There is a big emphasis on getting ‘the breathing’ right on these leaflets – something which colleagues who took NCT classes in the following decades tell me was still a big part of antenatal education in the 70’s and 80’s with much of each class focussed on practising breathing techniques. As time has passed NCT teachers have also incorporated more on pharmacological options for pain management and interventions including Induction of Labour and Caesarean as well as how to maximise the chances of achieving a straightforward vaginal birth. Informed decision making has become increasingly important with so many options and choices to be made as birth has become more and more medicalised. In the 1960’s when these documents were in circulation 35% of births would have taken place at home – with the number dropping dramatically to 5% within a decade; 6% of births were by Caesarean (now 30% and rising) and induction rates would have been around 15% compared to 40% nationally today.*

* statistics from 'Choice, Policy and Practice in Maternity Care since 1948' by Davis, A. available online at

It’s interesting to note that progress in labour appears to be measured in ‘fingers’ of dilation rather than centimetres in a pre-decimal world – for more on measuring cervical dilation see my previous blog post! After moving away from teaching such rigid methods of breathing for birth, it’s interesting to note that in the 2000’s NCT started training teachers in Yoga for Pregnancy, again recognising that alongside other physical skills, a focus on the breath is extremely helpful for many people in childbirth and beyond: with tutors Charlotte Whitehead and Virginia Campbell publishing a collection of techniques called ‘The Breathing’.

I’m so glad that the person who had these leaflets stored them, and that her daughter recognised their historic interest. She is sending them to NCT’s head office where they can be archived for posterity.

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