Mother-of-three Anna Dawson-Jones says the arrival of her first child felt “like someone had dropped an atom bomb on my life.” But with help from the National Childbirth Trust she picked up the pieces and is now making a career out of the experiences of motherhood and encouraging others to do the same. HILARIE STELFOX reports

LIKE many new mothers Anna Dawson-Jones was surprised by how much her life changed after having a baby.

She’d been working as a university administrator and was halfway through a PhD in geo chemistry when her first son James, now seven, arrived.

“I’d always thought that I’d stay in academia but it was like someone gave my life a big shake up and then left me to it,” she said. “I loved being a mum but it was a real shock.”

Her second child, Amy, now five, came along a couple of years later by which time Anna from Holmfirth had become a full-time mum and volunteer with the National Childbirth Trust.

It was membership of the NCT that 41-year-old Anna says helped her to cope with the demands of parenthood.

“I did the antenatal classes and joined a post natal coffee morning group,” she said. “I was very grateful to the NCT for the support I got. When my son was a few weeks old I went to a meeting, became newsletter editor and haven’t looked back since.”

Today Anna – who used to work at Huddersfield University where her husband, Eddie, is an IT technician – has many roles with the charitable organisation.

She is a part-time paid employee, setting up a project in Yorkshire and Humberside helping families with asylum or refugee status, she takes antenatal and postnatal classes and also has a volunteer role.

And while her life is busier than it has ever been, she still found time to have a third baby, Henry, who is now two.

The NCT has trained women to become antenatal teachers for more than 50 years, believing that mothers-to-be need to make informed choices during pregnancy and childbirth.

In the past such teachers received informal training but today’s NCT practitioners, as they are known, are offered university-accredited courses and the chance to make a career working with women at a unique time in their lives.

Anna says it is extremely rewarding personally and fits in well with family life.

There’s also a financial reward. An antenatal teacher working part time and running three classes a week, for example, can earn between £150 and £200 a week.

The NCT recently joined forces with the University of Worcester to offer a unique course in parenting education and modules that will enable students to train for a number of practitioner roles – as an antenatal teacher, breastfeeding counsellor, postnatal leader, yoga for pregnancy teacher or NCT doula (birth assistant).

As the largest UK charity for parents, the NCT says there has never been a better time to become a practitioner.

NCT education manager Clea Harmer believes overstretched maternity services mean that women may miss out on much-needed support. It’s also the case that many mothers no longer see a health visitor on a regular basis.

She said: “The varied training programme allows students to specialise in a wide range of areas while the flexibility means they can fit their learning around families and potentially be earning an income after one year.”

At the moment the Huddersfield area NCT has two postnatal leaders, two antenatal teachers and one breastfeeding counsellor helping up to 100 couples a year.

“With a birthrate of about 2,500 annually in the area you can see we are only scratching at the surface,” said Anna. “But we don’t have enough teachers to meet the demand. Recently we had to ask an antenatal teacher from another area to come and run a course in our area.

“There’s quite a high turnover of NCT practitioners as some women decide to look for full-time employment when their children start school.

“The hospital here does a wonderful job with the resources it has but can only offer parents two three-hour sessions antenatally.

“Our classes give parents 18 hours – including two hours devoted to breastfeeding – and are taught in small groups.”

Couples pay anything from £10 to £200 for classes, which are means-tested and subsidised by the national organisation.

The university courses will also be subsidised by bursaries for those with low incomes but the full cost of studying has yet to be announced.

The NCT is currently lobbying the Government over changes to higher education fees which it says will penalise students seeking to become NCT practitioners.

“Most of our students, but not all, are young mums with new babies so the NCT is doing everything it can to make the courses affordable,” said Anna.

In the meantime, Anna is recruiting for a new free course to train NCT Community Birth and Beyond Companions.

Aimed at providing support for families recently arrived in the region, it is broadening the work of the charity.

“You could say that the NCT has been thought of as a middle class organisation, supporting professional women,” says Anna. “And that’s quite valid as women from all communities and backgrounds can find themselves needing support.

“But this project is aimed at what you might call non-traditional NCT mums.

“The training lasts for nine weeks, followed by six weeks volunteering to help people in their own communities.

It’s entry level training so they could go on to do more studying and there are lots of bursaries available for them if they want to.”

“The NCT is changing the demographic from which its practitioners come and saying that we are here for all parents in all communities.”

A similar project is being run for families on military camps in North Yorkshire.

For more details about the NCT’s Community Birth and Beyond Companions course contact Anna on 07703 882798. For information on training to become an NCT practitioner check out

THE National Childbirth Trust was founded in 1956 and received charitable status in 1961. It was the brainchild of a woman called Prunella Briance who was inspired by the writings of Grantly Dick-Read on natural childbirth.

During the 1960s the organisation campaigned for an end to the over-use of technological intervention during labour and in the 1970s represented the voice of women dissatisfied with maternity services.

In 1991 the NCT was asked to give evidence on maternity services to the Government which resulted in the 10 Point Plan for Maternity Care adopted in 1998.

The organisation has a network of 300 local branches, free helplines, antenatal and postnatal classes, breastfeeding counsellors and peer support schemes. It has trained thousands of practitioners.