Background: four hospitals comprising a health network in Melbourne, Australia, implemented a range of initiatives aimed at enhancing women's experiences of postnatal maternity care.
Objective: to compare women's views and experiences of early postnatal care before and after implementation of maternity enhancement initiatives.
Design: 'before and after' study design incorporating two postal surveys of recent mothers (baseline and post-implementation).
Setting: four hospitals in Melbourne, Australia. Analysis of postnatal outcomes was confined to three hospitals where the initiatives were fully operational.
Participants: 1256 women participated in the baseline survey in 1999 (before implementing the initiative) and 1050 women responded to the post-implementation survey in 2001.
Findings: the response to the 1999 baseline survey was 65.3% (1256/1922) and to the 2001 post-implementation survey 57.4% (1050/1829). Comparative analysis revealed a statistically significant improvement in overall ratings of hospital postnatal care; the level of advice and support received in relation to discharge and going home; the sensitivity of caregivers; and the proportion of women receiving domiciliary care after discharge. There was little change in the time women spent in hospital after birth between the two survey time-points. Over 90% of women reported one or more health problems in the first 3 months postpartum. The proportion of women reporting physical or emotional health problems between the two surveys did not change.
Key conclusion: mainstream maternity care can be restructured to improve women's experiences of early postnatal care.
Implications for practice: maternity service providers should consider a multi-faceted approach to reorienting postnatal services and improving women's experiences of care. Approaches worthy of consideration include attempts to ensure consistency and continuity of care through staffing arrangements, guidelines and protocols; an emphasis on planning for postnatal care during pregnancy; the use of evidence to inform both consumer information and advice and in the practice of caring; and skill-enhancement opportunities for care providers in managing postnatal issues and in effective communication.