This thesis explores the relationship between antenatal education and the transition to motherhood, focusing on the pre-natal expectations and postnatal experiences of a small sample of first-time mothers in Plymouth. The aims of the study were 1) to investigate the style and content of statutory and voluntary sector antenatal classes in the Plymouth area. 2) To investigate factors affecting non-attendance, including non-attenders' perceptions of them. 3) To examine the role of lay systems of knowledge and support in the transition to motherhood and 4) to investigate the differential impact of different patterns of knowledge and support on the experiences of new parents, with particular attention to the three key areas of maternal wellbeing, parenting skills and parental relationships. A combination of qualitative and quantitative methods was used to obtain relevant data. The findings suggested that antenatal classes in both sectors focused mainly on labour and birth. Coverage of infant care skills and other important postnatal issues like parental relationships and maternal wellbeing were virtually non-existent. The style of antenatal classes was perceived as overly-prescriptive and directive. Information about labour and birth often duplicated what women already knew. The greatest benefit of attending classes was social, rather than informational. Many women found the classes did not provide them with realistic expectations of new motherhood. Non-attenders were found not to be disadvantaged by not attending classes, despite the common concerns of health professionals. Instead, they drew extensively on lay information and support. In light of these fmdings, it is argued that formal antenatal classes should have a broader curriculum that is also realistic. This study is implicitly critical of the biomedical framework in which maternity services are couched. It contributes to the field by broadening the definition of antenatal education to include informal and lay sources, engaging with users' (rather than just providers') views, to help evaluate antenatal education services. Importantly, it does this by evaluating them in the context of new motherhood.

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