Background: The Newborns' and Mothers' Health Protection Act of 1996 prohibits payers from restricting "benefits for any hospital length of stay in connection with childbirth for the mother or newborn child, following a normal vaginal delivery, to less than 48 hours." The law recognizes the basic right of women and physicians to make decisions about aptness of discharge timing.
Objective: To provide data as a basis for decisions about aptness of discharge timing by studying the effect of voluntary, moderate reductions in length of postpartum hospital stay on an array of maternal and infant health outcomes.
Design: A prospective cohort study. Patients were surveyed by telephone at 3 and 8 weeks postpartum.
Setting: A teaching hospital where 38% of the patients are in a managed care health plan with a noncompulsory reduced stay program offering enhanced prepartum and postpartum services, including home visits.
Patients: Consecutive mothers discharged after vaginal delivery during a 3-month period.
Main outcome measures: The outcomes were health services use within 21 days, breast-feeding, depression, sense of competence, and satisfaction with care. Multivariate analyses adjusted for sociodemographic factors, payer status, services, and social support.
Results: Of 1364 eligible patients, 1200 (88%) were surveyed at 3 weeks; of these 1200, 1015 (85%) were resurveyed at 8 weeks. The mean length of stay was 41.9 hours (SD, 12.2 hours). Of patients going home in 30 hours or less, 60.8% belonged to a managed care health plan. The length of stay was not related to the outcomes, except that women hospitalized shorter than 48 hours had more emergency department visits than those staying 40 to 48 hours (adjusted odds ratio, 5.78; 95% confidence interval, 1.19-28.05).
Conclusions: When adequate postpartum outpatient care is accessible, a moderately shorter length of postpartum stay after an uncomplicated vaginal delivery had no adverse effect on an array of outcomes. Researchers and policy makers should seek to better define the content of postpartum services necessary for achieving optimal outcomes for women and newborns; funding should be available to provide such services, regardless of the setting in which they are provided.