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ABSTRACT: Background: Health policymakers throughout the developed world are paying close attention to factors in maternity care that may influence women's satisfaction. This paper examines some of these factors in the light of observations from previous studies of satisfaction with health services.

Methods: The Scottish Birth Study, a cross-sectional questionnaire survey, sought the views of all women in Scotland delivering during a 10-day period in 1998. A total of 1,137 women completed and returned questionnaires (response rate = 69%).

Results: Women were overwhelmingly satisfied with their prenatal, intrapartum, and postnatal care. As is common in this type of study, reports of dissatisfaction were relatively low. However, differences occurred in satisfaction levels between subgroups; for example, the fewer the number of caregivers the woman had during childbirth, the more likely she was to be satisfied with the care received. A range of factors appeared to influence reported satisfaction levels, such as characteristics of the care provided and the woman's psychosocial circumstances.

Conclusions: In addition to the inherent limitations of satisfaction studies found in the literature, problems may arise if such surveys are used uncritically to shape the future provision of maternity services, because service users tend to value the status quo over innovations of which they have no experience. Therefore, although satisfaction surveys have a role to play, we argue that they should only be used with caution, and preferably as part of an array of tools. (BIRTH 30:2 June 2003)