About birth in private hospitals
Private hospitals are run by private organisations, unlike public hospitals, which are run by government. Private hospitals charge patients directly for services, including pregnancy and birth services.
Private hospitals offer a high-quality, safe, comfortable and caring environment for labour, birth and maternity care. Private hospitals have a more institutional feel than birth centres or homebirths.
If you choose to give birth in a private hospital, you also choose your own obstetrician. Your pregnancy appointments will be with the obstetrician. This can give you the chance to get to know your obstetrician, which many women like.
Private hospitals are an option for some pregnant women, although private hospitals don’t always have the facilities to care for high-risk pregnancies and women and babies who experience complications during labour and birth.
Some private hospitals have information nights, hospital tours or online virtual tours. Call the hospitals that you’re interested in or check their websites to find out about these options.
Booking into a private hospital to give birth
If you think you might be pregnant, see your GP as soon as possible to start your pregnancy care.
If you’ve already decided that you want to give birth in a private hospital, your GP will give you a referral to an obstetrician. If you’ve already chosen your obstetrician, this usually determines which private hospital you go to for the birth.
If you want to see an obstetrician but don’t know any, you can talk with your GP about local practitioners. Or you can call the private hospital where you want to give birth. The hospital should be able to give you a list of obstetricians who work there.
At your first appointment with your obstetrician, the obstetrician will go through your hospital options and book you into the private hospital.
Pregnancy care with obstetricians and private hospitals
Your pregnancy care appointments will be with your own obstetrician at private consulting rooms. Sometimes obstetricians work in small teams, so you might occasionally see another member of the team during your pregnancy.
Birth classes will be offered in one of your early appointments.
Around the day of the birth
When you know you’re in labour, you phone the hospital. The midwives in the birth suite will talk to you about what’s happening and discuss the best time for you to come into hospital.
During labour and birth you might be cared for by a few different hospital midwives, who will stay in close phone contact with your obstetrician. You probably won’t be able to choose the midwives who look after you at the birth or after the birth.
Your obstetrician will usually check on you during your labour and come for the birth. If you have an uncomplicated vaginal birth and your obstetrician doesn’t get there in time, a midwife will usually deliver your baby.
If you need a caesarean, your obstetrician will usually do the operation.
After the birth, the midwives will care for you. Your obstetrician will visit and check that you’re OK. A paediatrician will check and monitor your baby’s health. Most women stay in hospital for four days after a vaginal birth, and five days after a caesarean. But if you and your obstetrician are happy, you might be able to go home earlier.
If you’re having a planned or elective caesarean, you’ll know the day of your baby’s birth in advance. The hospital will tell you how to prepare, including how long to fast and when to come to hospital. You’ll be admitted to the maternity ward, but your baby will be delivered in the operating theatre.
The birth environment at private hospitals
Many private hospitals have large air-conditioned birthing suites, usually with ensuite and shower and sometimes baths. The birthing suites might also have birth balls, heat packs, electric oil burners and other equipment.
Most private hospitals don't allow water births, so speak to your hospital about your options.
Private maternity wards often have double, single or twin-share accommodation, with ensuites or shared bathrooms. You might be able to have a private room and/or double bed, depending on availability.
Many private hospitals have beds for partners, or a double bed, so your partner can stay overnight with you, although there’s likely to be a fee.
Private postnatal wards might also have:
- food menu options
- small kitchens.
Pregnancy and birth complications: how they’re handled at private hospitals
Obstetricians have special skills to manage difficulties and complications during pregnancy and birth. They’re also trained to deal with emergency situations – for example, emergency caesareans. Some women choose private pregnancy care with an obstetrician for these reasons.
But private hospitals don’t always have medical facilities for more intensive or complex care needs. Some women with previous or current complications decide to plan their births at public maternity hospitals with more facilities.
If you go into very premature labour or you or your baby have serious health problems, you might be taken to a public hospital with a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or a special care nursery (SCN) for premature or sick babies. Some private hospitals have SCNs, but they don’t usually have NICUs. If your obstetrician has an agreement with the hospital you’re transferred to, they might be able to continue your labour and birth care in that hospital.
Sometimes you’ll be well enough to go home after a complicated birth, but your baby might need to stay in the NICU or SCN.
Costs of giving birth at private hospitals
Here are some of the costs you can expect with obstetricians and private hospitals:
- You pay for appointments with your obstetrician. Costs might vary. You can get part of the cost of each appointment back from Medicare. Many obstetricians also have an extra fee for managing your pregnancy.
- Medicare and your private health fund will pay for at least some of your hospital stay. But depending on your private health insurance arrangements, you might also have some extra fees to pay.
- There will be costs for tests and ultrasound scans. You can often get some money back through Medicare.
- There might be a cost for birth classes. Check with your fund for possible rebates.
- You’ll have to pay for a paediatrician to give your baby a health check. You can often get some money back from Medicare and your private health fund.
- If you hire a doula, there’ll be a cost, which depends on the doula’s experience, level of care and involvement in your pregnancy.
- Check with your midwife or obstetrician about any other costs. For example, if you have a caesarean, there’ll be costs for anaesthetic services.
Private health insurance
Most women who birth at a private hospital have private health insurance, which covers some of the costs of pregnancy and hospital maternity care.
This means that your private health insurance should include cover for pregnancy care. If you’re looking into private health insurance or you’re already a member of a private health fund, it’s worth checking:
- what aspects of pregnancy and birth the private health fund covers
- how much pregnancy cover will cost or add to your insurance premium
- what out-of-pocket pregnancy costs you might still need to pay
- how long you have to wait for pregnancy care cover after joining the fund or adding pregnancy care to your cover.
Some health funds offer a ‘package’ of care that includes pregnancy care with an obstetrician, care at the birth and the postnatal check. It’s a good idea to get a quote so you can see exactly what’s included.
If you don’t have private health insurance, you can still choose private care, but there will be quite big costs. It might be even more expensive if your baby needs special care or an extended hospital stay.
It’s possible to be a private patient in a public hospital, which reduces some costs. If you’re interested in this option, contact the public hospital and ask if they have a private patient liaison officer that you can speak to.
To find private health funds and compare their prices and policies, visit PrivateHealth.gov.au.
Other things to think about with private hospital births
If you’re thinking about an obstetrician and private pregnancy care, you could also consider the following issues or discuss them with a health professional:
- If you live rurally, you might not have a private hospital in your area. It’s a good idea to look into your local options.
- If you or your baby has significant health problems, you might need to be transferred to a large public maternity hospital where there are specialists.
- Private hospitals have a higher rate of birth interventions and caesarean.
- Different hospitals have different rules about people visiting you after your baby is born.
- Different hospitals have different facilities and services during and after birth.
Knowing and talking about your options can help you feel more prepared and happier about your pregnancy and birth experience in the long run.