Public vs private care during pregnancy

If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you might be wondering about the options for your care.

There are some important questions that you may want to ask before deciding on public or private care during pregnancy such as:

  • Who would you like to care for you – for example, a midwife, your doctor or an obstetrician?
  • Where would you like to give birth – for example, at home, at hospital or in a birth centre?
  • Which is better for you and the baby?
  • If you want private care, can you afford it?
  • Care providers

There are several choices for your healthcare providers during pregnancy:

  • Midwives specialise in caring for you during normal, healthy pregnancy, labour, birth and breastfeeding.
  • Obstetricians specialise in medical care for you during pregnancy and birth if you have risk factors for, or experience, complications. Some private obstetricians also offer pregnancy and birth care for low-risk healthy women.
  • Your GP might offer pregnancy care in collaboration with a hospital. This is called shared care.
  • However, the type of care varies depending on whether you are receiving private or public care, and where you live in Australia. Some public hospitals offer one-to-one midwifery, birth centre, homebirth and/or shared care with your doctor, whereas private care will usually be provided by a private obstetrician and midwife. These providers often provide care in their own clinics and will attend the birth.

Choosing the place of birth

There are many places of birth to choose from:

  • Public hospitals offer private or shared rooms. For a straightforward vaginal birth, you will stay in hospital for around 2 days, or 3 days if you had a caesarean or complicated birth.
  • Birth centres offer care for healthy women who would like minimal medical intervention. Care is provided by midwives and you will usually return home within 24 hours. If complications develop at any time, your midwife will suggest transferring you to hospital.
  • Planned homebirth is an option available in some states if you have a low-risk pregnancy. You’ll be cared for by midwives who have back-up collaborative medical arrangements in place. You are less likely to receive medical interventions at home than you are in hospital, but if complications develop at any time, your midwife will suggest transferring you to hospital.
  • Private hospitals offer private or shared rooms. You’ll need to book a private obstetrician and most private hospitals will give you a list of obstetricians who practice in their facility. Usually a private hospital stay is 3–5 days.
  • In some hospitals and most birth centres, your partner can also stay overnight with you if a private room is available.

Costs

If you choose to have your care at a public hospital, birth centre or public homebirth program, all the costs are covered by Medicare.

But if you choose to have your care under a private healthcare provider or in a private hospital, Medicare will only cover part of the costs. Charges for a stay in a private hospital might be covered in part or in full by private health insurance. Check with your doctor, midwife, hospital, birth centre and health fund.