Background: women who birth in private facilities in Australia are more likely to have a caesarean birth than women who birth in public facilities and these differences remain after accounting for sector differences in the demographic and health risk profiles of women. However, the extent to which women's preferences and/or freedom to choose their mode of birth further account for differences in the likelihood of caesarean birth between the sectors remains untested.
Method: women who birthed in Queensland, Australia during a two-week period in 2009 were mailed a self-report survey approximately 3 months after birth. Seven hundred and fifty-seven women provided cross-sectional retrospective data on where they birthed (public or private facility), mode of birth (vaginal or caesarean) and risk factors, along with their preferences and freedom to choose their mode of birth. A hierarchical logistic regression was conducted to determine the extent to which maternal risk and freedom to choose one's mode of birth explain sector differences in the likelihood of having a caesarean birth.
Findings: while there was no sector difference in women's preference for mode of birth, women who birthed in private facilities had higher odds of feeling able to choose either a vaginal or caesarean birth, and feeling able to choose only a caesarean birth. Women had higher odds of having caesarean birth if they birthed in private facilities, even after accounting for significant risk factors such as age, body mass index, previous caesarean and use of assisted reproductive technology. However, there was no association between place of birth and odds of having a caesarean birth after also accounting for freedom to choose one's mode of birth.
Conclusions: these findings call into question suggestions that the higher caesarean birth rate in the private sector in Australia is attributable to increased levels of obstetric risk among women birthing in the private sector or maternal preferences alone. Instead, the determinants of sector differences in the likelihood of caesarean births are complex and are linked to differences in the perceived choices for mode of birth between women birthing in the private and public systems.
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