pregnancy

100 mums on their experience giving birth in a public or private hospital.

When I asked 100 parents from the Mamamia community who'd given birth in Australia, if they'd recommend the public or private system, I was not expecting the responses to be so incredibly even.

54 per cent advised public, while 46 per cent were in the private camp.

There's a lot of nuance in that of course, given the array of different options for pregnancy and birth care here in Australia. But what I learnt after reading through the stories of 99 women and one man is that literally no two experiences are the same, because no two parents want the same thing. The only similarity, in fact, was the desire for a healthy baby.

Watch: Questions about childbirth (answered by mums). Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 96 per cent of births in Australia take place in hospitals, in conventional labour wards. 

If you give birth using the public hospital system, most of your costs will be covered by Medicare. On the flip side, the ABC estimates that costs through the private system can be anywhere between $2,500 and $20,000.

Also important to note is that all private health insurers and health funds in Australia have a one-year waiting period for obstetric services which means you need to pre-plan your pregnancy if you want it to be covered.

Within the two systems, there are still plenty of options from GP shared care to midwife clinics, Midwife Group Practice, private midwives in a public hospital, obstetrician care in a public hospital, or private obstetricians within public or private hospitals. Very confusing stuff. 

So, here are the 50 most informative answers I received from the Mamamia community for you to peruse, if you are in the privileged position to be tossing up both options. 

1. Kate.

I went public. Paid absolutely zero. Had a private room, brilliant care (yes, in a major city). C-sections with both, beautiful work and wonderful pre, during, and aftercare. No complaints at all. We have the best health care in the world, I can't fathom how people think they can get better care by spending thousands. Would 100 per cent go public again.

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2. Anika. 

I don't have private hospital cover and we were not in a position to pay that amount of money out of pocket. I've had two children through the public system and the experience couldn't have been better. My second was born in the birth centre rather than the delivery suite, and I had a water birth with her which was amazing. 100 per cent, I would definitely choose public over private if I were to have any more children.

3. Emma.

I went private twice. Loved it and would definitely do it again. For my first pregnancy, we went through assisted fertility and I had a few underlying medical issues I wanted personal management of, so wanted my doctor to manage me through my pregnancy. I had two great birth experiences and no complaints. I really enjoyed having longer in hospital and having access to the midwives and lactation support rather than being sent home.

4. Laura.

The first two pregnancies I went private as we had it covered in our health insurance. Third time was an unplanned pregnancy and we didn’t have any maternity cover so went with public. Public was great, so easy and so much less expensive than private. I would choose public again.

5. Adrienne.

I went private twice because I wanted to be able to choose my doctor and have more choices with the type of care and monitoring I had and I wanted my own room. The experience was great both times. I was very comfortable with my level of care and would do it again. It was an investment in my peace of mind and gave me more control over what was happening and someone to talk to directly when I was concerned.

6. Bree.

I mean other than the price I can’t think of any reason why you wouldn’t go private. You get a choice of your OB, a choice of hospital, your own room, better care, longer stay, it’s more luxurious and you get better support. It was fantastic, I have no complaints at all and I would go private again.

7. Natasha.

I've had three babies through two different public hospitals. All three times we chose midwifery-led modes of care. This meant we had continuity with a couple of midwives we got to know well, left hospital quickly after birth and our midwives came for visits at our home for several weeks after birth. It was wonderful. I'd choose the same again if the need arose.

8. Sarah-Emma.

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We went private mainly because we have insurance and I have PCOS and endometriosis. My care team and hospital were amazing. I had a really positive birth experience, despite giving birth in Melbourne in the middle of hard lockdown. I would absolutely do it again if we were to have another child.

9. Thalia.

We went private because I wanted to have the same obstetrician for the entire pregnancy and delivery. I loved the entire experience. I felt nurtured and trusted in the process. Every single touchpoint was amazing, from the medical staff right through to the cleaners, volunteers and hospitality staff. I am pregnant with my second baby and will be going private again.

10. Steph.

We went private as we had sufficient health insurance and I wanted my hubby to be able to stay with me the entire time. I also wanted to choose my doctor and ensure he was at my birth. It was excellent. The hospital was great, food was great. We got a double bed for hubby to stay with us. Private room. Doctor visited every day and we stayed five days with the ability to stay longer if we wanted to. 100 per cent would do it that way again.

11. Erin.

I went public with my first child. My daughter was almost born at home as they didn’t believe I was in labour when I called. After that experience, I said I’d never go public ever again. It was my first baby and I didn’t realise my body was in active labour. I should have gone in like four hours before I did. The care after she was born in the hospital was okay, but I just got the vibe they were too busy for me. I had twins private second time around, and it was a much better experience. The only problem is it’s expensive. 

12. Inam 

I went public both times despite having public health insurance after I discovered how much I would be out-of-pocket. I also had a private room each time (different hospitals). Both experiences were good. I loved the midwives who helped me deliver as they really made me believe in myself during two tricky deliveries and I felt in safe hands both times. Would definitely go public again. We are so lucky to live in a country where we can get amazing free healthcare.

13. Simone.

I went public but asked to be case loaded early on which meant I had the same midwife throughout and I also had a student midwife who I adored. I had my own room and private bathroom both times, but was discharged the next day with my second which I was happy about because I wanted to get back to my little one at home. I feel like I had a private experience in a public hospital and wasn’t out-of-pocket. I also had amazing aftercare both times such as home visits and lactation consultant access.

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14. Brodie.

I went private because I needed the same person for my pregnancy as I had a heart condition and needed someone to know what exactly was happening with me. Second time around I went public, but at the specialist hospital so I still had my own room. I didn’t find the aftercare at the private hospital that great so didn't want to pay again, and knew how my heart had coped with labour so was more comfortable with public, even though I was seeing someone different every time. For number three I went private again. Pros of private in my experience: seeing the same person and less wait time. Pros of public: it's free and the ratios for care are better. 

15. Ash.

I couldn’t justify spending several thousand dollars out of pocket when we have the same services for free. To add obstetrics to private health costs - a huge sum extra per year - barely seemed worth it for us. Didn’t feel financially the best option for us personally and we chose to use the extra money to take longer maternity leave. Both of my experiences in the public hospital were incredible. Besides the odd dragon midwife (you’ll get that no matter where you go it seems), I had highly competent doctors and staff care. I’d go public again without a second thought.

16. Marie.

I went private with baby one. I'm going public with baby two. Why? Well, I'm high risk, and with the first pregnancy, I was scared. Also, I knew the region well and knew the reputation of the obstetricians, so chose one I trusted. Three years later with number two, I'm in a new area. I don't know the doctors' reputations, so couldn't justify the significant out-of-pocket expenses with the risk I wouldn't get a doctor I liked. Plus the costs were so high. The private insurance cover was a saving of about $150/month. Plus the thousands of out-of-pocket expenses. This time I'm less scared so the cost didn't add up for me. My private experience was wonderful, and I'm not loving my public experience so far, but I also don't mind that much because with my second baby I feel I need much less handholding.

17. Vicky.

I had my first in the public system and I had a horrible experience with a week of early labour, pain management, not knowing the midwives and then issues in care afterwards for myself and then also issues with breastfeeding. For my next two, I went private because I wanted to see the same face. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt more empowered to make choices and that’s what I needed after the first birth.

18. Jem.

I went public because that's all that is available in the town I live in and we have an amazing Midwifery Group Practice and continuity of care. I also prefer public because they are better funded and equipt for emergencies. It was amazing - even in an emergency for mother and baby. Wouldn't do it any other way.

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19. Stephanie.

I went public for our first baby because our hospital was close by and we could do GP shared care which provided some continuity. I was in a ward sharing a room with up to five other people for nearly two weeks. The food was horrible, and it was hard to know what was going on every day due to different doctors and midwives. We are planning to go private next time mostly because I will be high-risk again and feel I deserve a better hospital experience for the next one.

20. Talia.

I used private midwives for planned home births. I think I was out-of-pocket around $7,000 each time. We had top-level private cover but didn’t use any of the obstetrics or hospital cover, and we didn’t get anything back for the private midwives. My midwife came every day to our house for two weeks, then every few days or so until six weeks. Exceptional care.

21. Melissa.

Baby one I had to go public as I didn’t have private health. I was two weeks overdue and they didn’t want to induce me as they were too full. I was a young first time mum with no support and had an extremely traumatic birth. I also got sent home less than 48 hours after delivery as they needed more beds and got told ‘you’ll be right.’ For two and three I went private and my OB and the hospitals were amazing. I would honestly have 100 babies just to see my OB and give birth in those hospitals again, the physical and mental wellbeing care was amazing.

22. Maz.

I went public because I didn’t have public health insurance despite me working in a private hospital. I couldn’t fault the care I received.

23. Annah.

I went private. Primarily because I wanted to attempt a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC), and the public system said that there was a zero per cent chance they would let me. I know it’s standard for the public hospital to give mums of multiples steroid injections when it’s coming towards the end of their pregnancies to assist with boosting the lung growth of the babies before birth. I didn’t get that with my pregnancy and I always wonder if my son would have the issues that he does if we got those shots through the public system. 

24. Nicola.

For my first, I went through midwife care in a public hospital because I got pregnant quicker than the waiting period for private health insurance. I had a great experience and found the pre and post-birth care to be amazing. Plus I had my own room. Now I’m pregnant with my second (and covered by private health insurance), but I’m choosing to go public again at the same hospital with the same midwife program despite having the option to go private.

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25. Georgia.

I chose private because I am a healthcare worker and I have seen when things go very wrong. With childbirth, things go wrong and quickly and I’d rather have an experienced obstetrician looking after me who I trusted and knew me throughout my pregnancy journey. I would elect to go private in a public hospital though. But I think if people can afford the fees they should go private to take the burden off an already under-funded public sector where people need care who can’t afford to choose.

26. Jessica.

I went public due to financial reasons and I was worried about the level/continuity of care as a public patient. However, I was very happy with the shared care from my GP and the midwives. When it came time to give birth I had a lot of undiagnosed complications and haemorrhaged badly; if this had happened in a smaller, private hospital my son and I may have been in real trouble.

27. Annabel.

I went private because we could afford it, and I wanted a relaxed and pampered environment with one-to-one care. It was everything I imagined it to be and more. The nurses and doctors were very lovely and accommodating. The food was amazing too. I would not hesitate going private again.

28. Ruth.

We have gone public with all three pregnancies. We have private health cover for a lot of things but when looking into private for pregnancy the cost just didn't seem to outweigh the benefits and was just too much considering we have such an amazing health care system in Australia. For my first, I didn't have continuity of care as it was all filled up. Not having this was a shame and a bit more time-consuming waiting for appointments however I always felt in great care and saw numerous specialists when complications arose. For our second we opted for the same public system and hospital as we were so happy with the standard of care and safety. Currently, for my third, I'm very excited to be with the same midwifery group. 

29. Ruby.

I went through the public system with continuity of care model in a Midwifery Group Practice program. I chose it because I wanted to have a vaginal birth with no pain relief and care providers who supported me in making my own choices. It was a really positive experience. I loved my midwives and felt completely in charge of my own experience. I was home about seven hours after giving birth and had multiple home visits from my midwife afterwards. 100 per cent would do it again.

30. Stephanie.

I went private twice and it was worth every cent. I was prepared to pay down to the individual blood tests. I had preeclampsia from 24 weeks, was admitted multiple times and never ever rushed home. I could not imagine being in a shared room while being that sick for so long.

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31. Kate.

Public three times with shared care - also hired a private doula the first two and had a great experience each time. One of the reasons we went public was so we could use the money we would have spent on private for other things important to us as a family and if something went wrong, we were amongst some of the best doctors in the country.

32. Claudia.

I went public; we have a really good public hospital near home so we never considered going private. I cannot fault the care I received, I was in hospital for almost two weeks after I gave birth and we received the best care, not one complaint from me. I would definitely go public again, the only downside is that for your appointments you see different doctors all the time but the care is still great.

33. Jessica.

I had all four of my babies at the same public hospital in Melbourne. My first and second pregnancy I did shared care with my GP. My third pregnancy I had twins, so I was classed high-risk and could only be seen by the doctors and midwives at the hospital. All babies were born via C-section and besides the length of stay, I had wonderful care each time. I understand the public system is under pressure so length of stay is kept to a minimum. But I'm a firm believer that first-time mums should stay until their milk comes in (should they choose to breastfeed).

34. Maz.

I had my son in the public system. It was a horrible experience. No continuity of care whatsoever. Decided to have my daughter privately, and had a great experience with a wonderful OB and got great consistent care. I tell everyone that if they possibly can, they should go private. Worth every single cent. I think all up my costs of going private were about $6000. That included the OB retainer, all tests (including Harmony), the anaesthetist and the gap fee.

35. Kate.

I went public for both kids even though we had private health insurance. Because the health outcomes for mum and baby are better with the public system and I was lucky enough to have a Midwifery Group Practice midwife. I appreciate though that every single woman’s needs and experiences are different and as long as the mum feels supported and trusted in the way she needs to feel, you can’t make a wrong choice either way.

36. Gina.

I went private with the first two and couldn’t fault it. But I am now having an 'oops' third baby seven years later and have no hospital cover anymore, so now I am navigating the public system. I’m impressed so far, but I am quite a proactive person so I worry that maybe some more quiet women may not get the health advocacy they need. I’ve noticed a few times here or there where I have had to bring up something that they forgot to ask. But honestly, overall it’s been great. Looking forward to comparing the birthing and post-natal care experience because I think this will be a defining difference.

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37. Danielle.

Public the first time and everything went wrong unfortunately as my case was handled poorly by midwives who were out of their depth. So for our second, we chose to go private as we no longer trusted the public system. In the public system, you are seen based on what priority your condition is given, in the private sector, you have your dedicated OB who is there if something goes wrong. The experience was much better in the private system - but that's what you pay for.

38. Kate.

I went public for my two births. We had private insurance, and could have afforded it, but I’m a nurse, and grew up with a mother who is a midwife. She’s a big advocate for midwife-led care and I knew long before getting pregnant that's the care I wanted. Both births I managed to get a place on the Midwifery Group Practice, so had the same midwife for all appointments. My births were calm, beautiful and exactly how I pictured them. I could not have had better birthing experiences and would 1000000 per cent go public again.

39. Abigail.

I went public for both with Midwife Group Practice, so had full continuity of care for both labours which was amazing. Could not fault it. For us, public was a no-brainer. We didn't want to spend the money on something that could be handled so well publicly. I had very straightforward labours and deliveries so maybe if I wasn't fortunate to have that experience I'd consider private but was never a factor for us.

40. Leah.

I went private for both of my pregnancies because after a long journey of infertility and IVF, I wanted the extra scans, tests and monitoring for peace of mind. I also knew both times I'd be having an elective C-section and liked choosing my obstetrician and knowing I'd see the same person the entire way through and at delivery. It was AMAZING. Money well spent and Defence Health Private Health Insurance helped make it more affordable than I thought. 

41. Emily.

I went public. We had a private midwife for continuity of care. It was incredible. I had complications and felt very safe in the public system with the best consultant care. Yes I waited. Yes they were busy, but having our own midwife meant that didn't matter.

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43. Marie.

I trust in our public health system and the costs for going private seemed disproportionate to the service. They were absolutely fabulous. I had a textbook pregnancy up to 30 weeks after which it went very pear-shaped. My daughter stayed in special care for 32 days with nurses and doctors who were wonderful, and provided us with so much support. They saved her life. I would not hesitate to go public again.

44. Shauna.

I went private for my first and it was great. While it was exactly what I needed as a first-time mum, all the benefits were irrelevant for my second as I knew what I was in for and my husband was at home with our first so I went public. Especially with a planned C-section the second time around it would have been a complete waste of money in my eyes to go private again. If I have any more kids I'll stay public.

45. Saengtip.

I went public because every baby was a surprise baby, and I would go public again but only because the hospital I’m eligible for is a very good public hospital. The experience was great. I did the midwife program and even though it was a different midwife each appointment and for my birth, they all knew my file and history in detail. The midwives have and continue to give good suggestions and advice (I’m currently in my third pregnancy at the same hospital). I feel very well taken care of.

46. Mel.

I went public because I believed the care you get in the public system is as good as the private system. I didn't see the point in paying for 'nice to haves'. It's not that we couldn't afford it, but with my first baby I thought there were better things to spend money on. I have worked in private health insurance in the past, and even a woman who was a high-level director had told me she had her babies in public because we have an excellent public system. So I very much had this in my mind. I couldn't fault the pre and on-the-day care. However, post-birth was very hard. I was alone in a double room but my husband couldn't stay. I had an emergency C-section and could barely move. I buzzed constantly and got zero sleep. I am torn - I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I want to start trying for a second. I think I will go private. I will most likely have another C-section and I think I am willing to pay to have a nicer experience post-birth, and have my own room where my husband can stay with me.

47. Kate.

I went private for both of mine and it was worth every single cent. My OB was amazing and I felt so safe, even when we were hit with a lot of complications. I could text her 24/7 and she visited me every day in hospital to check in. She also got me top specialists from her network when I needed them. I would definitely go this route again as it was right for us. 

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48. Kim.

My experience is coloured through the lens of having a medically complicated birth and premature baby. I think that changes a lot. I went private because I was under the illusion it was a higher standard of care and because as a survivor of sexual assault, I wanted to choose my own female OB and have her care for me from the get-go. The OB care was outstanding, but the care on the ward after my son was born early and in special care could have been better. There was very little communication with us as new parents and woefully inadequate breastfeeding support. Although the midwives were absolutely lovely human beings, there were things that just weren’t offered to me that my friends who gave birth to preemies in public hospitals were offered. Having an unexpected premature birth in a private hospital can also come with unforeseen costs that insurance do not cover (or they try to get out of covering). Having to find ways around those insurance loopholes to make sure my son got the right care for as long as he needed was stressful.

In a public hospital, there wouldn’t have been that added stress. I won’t go private again, because my state has one of the best tertiary maternity hospitals in the country and I now qualify to be a patient there. I’m happier to let go of the creature comforts for a higher standard of health care.

49. Cherie.

I chose private because I wanted to see an obstetrician and I wanted proper support for breastfeeding. Friends who went public at my local hospital consistently told me they didn't receive enough post-birth care or breastfeeding support, and were rushed out of the hospital. As a first time mum, I didn't want that experience.

50. Alix

I went public despite having private health maternity cover because my insurance couldn't give me an estimate of out-of-pocket expenses for a delivery at my local private hospital. The normal cost I had heard from others was around the $10k mark and I didn't see the value in that especially given my local public hospital is newish and has private rooms. I trust that we have the absolute best health care system in the world available to anyone despite what we each earn and contribute in terms of taxes. It was brilliant. We received the best care and I felt supported and heard by all the teams. A few negatives - my partner can't stay overnight and they discharge you very very quickly so it can be hard and dangerous. But I am doing it this way again in September.

Read more: The 3 biggest differences between giving birth in a public and private hospital, from mothers who've done both.

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