Hospitals in the UK are cutting antenatal classes because of the NHS financial problems, according to the Royal College of Midwives.
The National Service Framework on maternity services, published in 2004, said good antenatal care should include providing access to parenting education and preparation for birth.
But it is down to individual Trusts to pay the hospitals to provide them.
Antenatal classes give expectant couples information on labour and birth, breastfeeding and advice on what to expect during the early days and weeks of parenthood.
A review of local cuts was compiled from October last year and has found that 19 areas across England and Wales have either cut or closed antenatal classes or visits to maternity units.
Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NHS, said, “So much of the NHS is closing antenatal classes down. There are a lot of people who would have gone to those classes, but they can’t.”
Mervi Jokinen, of the Royal College of Midwives, said, “The NHS is in grave difficulties financially.
“With maternity services, they have looked at what they can leave out. We understand that a concerning amount of antenatal classes are being cut.
“NCT classes are very good, but women and their partners don’t get to know the midwives they will be seeing when they have their babies, like they do with NHS classes.”
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman and Romsey MP Sandra Gidley has written to ministers about the cuts to classes. A former NCT teacher, she said it would be the most deprived families who would suffer.
“The people who are most in need are the ones least able to access information.”
Jo Webber, deputy director of policy at the NHS Confederation – which represents over 90 per cent of NHS organisations, said, “We would not want women to be going through pregnancy without all of the relevant information.
“It is especially important that women living in deprived areas receive this information and support – as historically it would seem they do not tend to try and access antenatal services.
“PCTs are working hard to provide the best possible antenatal care possible to local patients – this may not always be in the form of an antenatal class.”
A Department of Health spokesman said trusts should meet standards laid down by the NSF, and echoed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence.
“The soon-to-be-published maternity strategy will set out how we will achieve services that provide real choice and support for women in all settings, from antenatal care through to the early child years.”