Less natural births in private hospitals

12:0AM, Sep 13th 2012

Australian women giving birth in private hospitals are 20 percent more likely to undergo medical interventions such as caesareans than mums who give birth in public hospitals.

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Australian women giving birth in private hospitals are 20 percent more likely to undergo medical interventions than mums who go to public hospitals.

A newly released study of nearly 700,000 NSW women with low-risk pregnancies has found that while 35 percent in public hospitals had natural vaginal births with no medical intervention, this figure dropped to 15 percent for women choosing a private hospital.

And this is a phenomenon that has increased dramatically in the past decade, according to study leader Dr Hannah Dahlen, a professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney.

To challenge the popular belief that women receiving interventions such as caesareans and induced labour are older or less healthy, Dr Dahlen said they specifically sought out women aged 20 to 34 with a low risk of birth complications.

With one in three babies now delivered by caesarean section in Australia, rising public health concerns over the associated risks to mother and child has led the New South Wales government to implement policy aiming to increase vaginal birth rates.

Related: Caesareans not always best for baby

Researchers noted that the cost to the taxpayer of rising interventions is also significant, with birth costs increasing by up to 50 percent once interventions were introduced among first-time low-risk mothers.

“The fact that these procedures, which were initially life saving, are now so commonplace and do not appear to be associated with improved [baby] death rates demands close review,” found the study, published this week in the British Medical Journal’s BJM Open online journal.

The marked difference in birthing experiences of women in public and private care is “potentially due to variations in the practitioners’ behaviour rather than the health of women,” concludes the study.

“The findings suggest that a two-tier system exists in Australia, without any obvious benefit for women and babies, and a level of medical over servicing which is difficult to defend.”

But the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians has expressed concern over the study’s findings. In a statement posted on the College’s website, president Dr Rupert Sherwood denied the notion that “low-risk women were routinely being given unnecessary obstetric care.”

Dr Sherwood called the study “an open criticism of those women who make the choice to access…one-on-one continuity of care with a specialist medical practitioner.”

He asserted that women receiving obstetric interventions were well informed about the implications. “In particular, the private hospital patient is more likely than most to have carefully researched her options prior to making choices about care,” said Dr Sherwood

“It is important that we respect the choices women make and continue our strong advocacy for the best care to be available to all women, whatever their choice of birth provider or location.”

What was your birthing experience in public or private care? Did you have any medical interventions? Share your thoughts below.

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