Objective: to describe the extent to which women using maternity services perceive that they have exercised informed choice.
Setting: twelve maternity units in Wales.
Design: postal survey of women using maternity services, covering women's views of the extent to which they exercised informed choice overall, and at eight decision points during their care.
Participants: 1386 women at approximately 28 weeks gestation (antenatal sample) and 1741 women at approximately 8 weeks post delivery (postnatal sample).
Measurements and findings: 54% of women perceived that they exercised informed choice overall in the antenatal sample (95% CI: 51-57%) and 54% overall in the postnatal sample (95% CI: 52-56%). Perceptions of informed choice differed by decision point, varying between 31% for fetal heart monitoring during labour and 73% for the screening test for Down's syndrome and spina bifida in the baby. There were differences by maternity unit, even when the characteristics of women attending these units were taken into account. Multiparous women, women from manual occupations and women with lower educational status were more likely to feel that they exercised informed choice during antenatal care. These sub-groups of women were also more likely to report a preference for not sharing decision-making with health professionals.
Conclusions: a large minority of women felt that they had not exercised informed choice overall in their maternity care. The perception of informed choice differed by decision point, maternity unit and characteristics of the woman.
Implications for practice: attaining informed choice is more of a challenge for some decision points in maternity care than others, particularly fetal monitoring. The difference in levels of informed choice between maternity units highlights the importance of maternity unit policy in the promotion of informed choice.
Copyright 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd.