Letitia Quaresimin

Private or Public for birth? Here’s what you need to know

There are lots of decisions to make before and after you fall pregnant (baby names, nursery colours, Instagram handles…), however the most important one is probably where you decide to give birth.

Unless you’re opting for a homebirth, your decision will most likely come down to choosing a public or private hospital. As every mumma’s needs are different, this choice will be highly personal. So, here’s a little breakdown of the differences: 

 Public Vs Private: Timing

The first thing to note is that if you’re planning on being a private patient, you need to start preparing before you get that double line on your pregnancy test. The current waiting period for pregnancy with new insurance policies or upgrading existing policies is 12 months. Some women opt to upgrade their policy ‘just in case’ so they know they are covered if they do become pregnant, while others decide not to sign up for insurance at all.

Of course, sometimes this decision may be taken out of your hands altogether. Perhaps your bundle of joy was unexpected, or you don’t live anywhere near a private hospital. Or perhaps your obstetrician only works out of a private hospital?

Either way, it’s something to consider as soon as you are thinking about being a mumma.

 Pubic Vs Private: Choice

 One of the main reasons many women decide to go private is the ability to choose their obstetrician. The idea is that you’ll have a friendly face you’ll recognise in the delivery ward; someone who knows you and your pregnancy history inside and out (literally).

 Frustratingly, sometimes this doesn’t happen, for example, if your obstetrician is attending an emergency or is on holidays. Then a doctor of their choosing will stand in their place. In the public system, you will be attended by the midwives on duty and if it’s a complicated birth, then a doctor will be called in. 

This also extends to prenatal care; in the public hospital your appointments will be scheduled with whoever is on duty that day, and sometimes, depending on the hospital, there can be delays and lots of queue waiting.

 Public Vs Private: Cost

Luckily in Australia we don’t have absorbent fees when it comes to hospital care (we’re looking at you, America!), but the costs can add up. Not surprisingly, a lot of families worry about ‘bill shock’ and out of pocket expenses when it comes to giving birth.

As a rule, having a baby in the public system is more cost effective because Medicare covers nearly everything. As a rough guide, a recent survey from Griffith University found that from conception to birth the average cost for the public system is around $500, while the average cost for the private system is around $3000. Quite a difference.

This is because Medicare (together with your insurance provider) only covers part of the fees for the obstetrician and out-of-hospital tests/ medication, while in the public system Medicare covers nearly everything.   


Public Vs Private: Accommodation

One of the ‘luxury’ benefits of a private hospital is the likelihood of a private room (and bathroom!), which you may appreciate if you have a long or complicated labour or a fussy baby.

In the public system, you may be in a room with around two to six other mummas and their babies. Because of this, partners are generally not permitted to stay the night with you and your bub, unlike private hospitals which provide bedding and sometimes even a double bed in your private room.

Public hospitals will also encourage you to stay two-three days after giving birth, followed by (in some cases) midwife support at home. In a private hospital, you’re welcome to stay around four days, or five if you’ve had a c-section or need extra care.

Food is another consideration as most private hospitals have a choice of food, or even a big menu, which you can order from via your in-room phone (hello, room service!). The public system also offers free meals, just with limited options. 

Public Vs Private: Extras

Lastly, there are some extra reasons why you might choose a private hospital, but they will most likely fall into the ‘nice-to-have’ basket, rather than on your ‘must-have’ list.

These include free educational classes (breastfeeding, settling, bathing, swaddling etc), photographers on call, movie channels, visitor lounges with afternoon tea and one-on-one midwife assistance.

Another welcome benefit is that most private hospital maternity wards have 24-hour visitor hours, so you partner can come at any time to offer support (and cuddles) to mum and bub.


Either way, the choice is different for every mumma and will be based on a variety of factors. What might be perfect for one mumma, might not be for another. The important thing is to understand the options, so you can make the decision that works best before for you, your bub and your fam! 


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