Background: Health-care design recognises the importance of people-environment interactions, and maternity units have responded by encouraging 'homely' environments. Birthing women and birth partners have been separately surveyed about their experiences of the maternity environment and midwifery care, but not to date as dyads.
Method(s): Postal return survey of mothers and birth partners from nine maternity units (six midwife-led; three obstetric-led) in England, at eight days postnatally in 2004-5. Questions concerned participants' general and specific impressions of the unit environment and of the care given. A repeated measures analysis of variance was used to explore interactions between mothers and partners and different types of unit. The Wilcoxon signed rank test was used for skewed satisfaction scores. Loglinear models were used to analyse mothers' and partners' cited comments, factoring in types of unit.
Findings: 515 Dyads responded (response rate 50%). Mothers and partners were generally positive, but *mothers were more so. They rated the birth surroundings (Z = -8.083; p < 0.001) and the midwifery care (Z = -7.177; p < 0.001) more highly than their partners; these findings were significant in both types of unit. Loglinear analysis found that mothers especially were more likely to find midwife-led units 'homely' (Z = 2.496; p = 0.013), 'calming' (Z = 9.61; p < 0.001): and 'clean' (Z = 4.08, p < 0.001). Obstetric-led units were more likely to be thought 'stuffy' (Z = -3.51, p < 0.001). Partners were more likely to agree that there was a lack of privacy (Z = 3.401; p = 0.001), and that there was a lack of facilities for them, particularly within obstetric-led units.
Conclusions: Although generally positive, birth partners were significantly less positive than the birthing mothers about a range of environmental and care variables. The primary focus is and should be the birthing woman, but the partner nevertheless has an interactive role to play, and improving his experience may assist this function.
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