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Open Access Research article

Does a referral from home to hospital affect satisfaction with childbirth? A cross-national comparison

Wendy Christiaens*, Anneleen Gouwy and Piet Bracke

Author Affiliations

Department of Sociology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium

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BMC Health Services Research 2007, 7:109  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-7-109

Published: 12 July 2007

Abstract

Background

The Belgian and Dutch societies present many similarities but differ with regard to the organisation of maternity care. The Dutch way of giving birth is well known for its high percentage of home births and its low medical intervention rate. In contrast, home births in Belgium are uncommon and the medical model is taken for granted. Dutch and Belgian maternity care systems are compared with regard to the influence of being referred to specialist care during pregnancy or intrapartum while planning for a home birth. We expect that a referral will result in lower satisfaction with childbirth, especially in Belgium.

Methods

Two questionnaires were filled out by 605 women, one at 30 weeks of pregnancy and one within the first two weeks after childbirth, either at home or in a hospital. Of these, 563 questionnaires were usable for analysis. Women were invited to participate in the study by independent midwives and obstetricians during antenatal visits in 2004–2005. Satisfaction with childbirth was measured by the Mackey Satisfaction with Childbirth Rating Scale, which takes into account the multidimensional nature of the concept.

Results

Belgian women are more satisfied than Dutch women and home births are more satisfying than hospital births. Women who are referred to the hospital while planning for a home birth are less satisfied than women who planned to give birth in hospital and did. A referral has a greater negative impact on satisfaction for Dutch women.

Conclusion

There is no reason to believe Dutch women receive hospital care of lesser quality than Belgian women in case of a referral. Belgian and Dutch attach different meaning to being referred, resulting in a different evaluation of childbirth. In the Dutch maternity care system home births lead to higher satisfaction, but once a referral to the hospital is necessary satisfaction drops and ends up lower than satisfaction with hospital births that were planned in advance. We need to understand more about referral processes and how women experience them.