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More aided births 'a concern'

Concerns: babies born in private hospitals need more special care. Picture: John Mokrzycki/The West Australian

Babies born in private hospitals may be more likely to need help breathing or be admitted to special care nurseries after birth than babies born at public hospitals, research suggests.

The study showed mothers at private hospitals were more than twice as likely to have assisted vaginal deliveries, which includes the use of forceps or a vacuum, than women who gave birth in public hospitals.

Babies born via an assisted delivery were more likely to require neonatal resuscitation or admission to a special care nursery after they were born.

Lead researcher Kristjana Einarsdottir, from the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, said she could not say for sure why mothers in private hospitals were more likely to have assisted deliveries.

However, she said the study suggested the higher level of interventions in private hospitals was unlikely to be because of differences in medical problems or the use of epidurals and more likely to be the result of differences in obstetric practices between public and private hospitals.

Given that assisted deliveries are associated with a greater risk of adverse outcomes for babies, she said this was a concern.

"Over-utilisation of obstetric interventions in Australian private hospitals is likely to result in more infants needing assistance with breathing following birth," Ms Einarsdottir said.

"The focus of my research in the coming years will be to find out why there are differences in obstetric practice between private and public hospitals in Australia and what can be done to minimise these differences."

The study crunched data from the WA Midwives Notification System, the WA Hospital Morbidity Data Collection and the WA Birth Defects Registry to look at 158,241 vaginal births, 19 per cent of which were assisted deliveries.

It found that assisted vaginal deliveries were more than twice as likely in mothers admitted as private patients for delivery - 30 per cent versus 14.4 per cent - despite being less likely to experience foetal distress during delivery.

Foetal stress can be one indication for assisted delivery.

The research is in line with previous studies that have suggested privately insured women in Australia are more likely to have a caesarean or instrumentally assisted delivery and have a higher risk of forceps or vacuum delivery or other obstetric intervention compared with women without private insurance.