Almost three-quarters of pregnant women on low incomes do not attend antenatal classes, a new poll suggests.
The survey found 44% of women with household incomes of less than £15,000 had not been offered antenatal classes on the NHS by their midwife and a further 29% did not attend the classes they were offered.
Antenatal classes can be paid for privately though organisations such as the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) but are also available on the NHS.
Among women expecting babies for the first time - when the classes are especially useful - 26% of those on low incomes were not offered them, compared with 9% of first-time mothers with household incomes of more than £40,000 per year.
Evidence from the survey, carried out by Netmums and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), suggests women who miss out on NHS classes do not then go on to attend NCT classes. Antenatal classes cover topics such as labour and giving birth, breastfeeding and caring for newborns.
The survey also found that a third of all women said they did not see their midwife enough during pregnancy. Those on the lowest incomes felt this the most strongly, although almost 60% of them were still satisfied.
After the birth, 12% of all women only had one visit from a midwife while 51% only had two or three. Many women felt they wanted more, with 24% of all women saying they had not had enough help with learning how to feed their baby.
The Government's policy is for all women to be offered a home birth among other choices, yet figures released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed just 2.5% of women gave birth at home in 2010. In the latest survey, 64% of women said they were not offered a home birth and most said they were not told they could wait until later in pregnancy to decide.
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, said: "I know the midwives are working very hard out there to deliver high quality care. At the same time many of them are doing it with less staff and fewer resources, and that situation is reflected in these results. It simply reinforces our call for more midwives and for this Government to really realise that standards are falling in maternity services. Without investment I fear they will fall even further."
In July 2010, there were 20,059 midwives working full time or equivalent, rising by just over 500 to 20,607 in July this year, according to the Department of Health.
© 2011 Press Association