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Background:

Debate about early obstetric discharge is occurring simultaneously in several different countries. An Australian population-based survey of recent mothers investigated women's views about shorter postnatal stays and assessed the impact of early discharge on important maternal health outcomes.

Method:

Women's views and experiences of length of hospital stay were gathered by means of a statewide postal survey of all women who gave birth in Victoria, Australia, during two weeks in 1993. Questionnaires were mailed to women 6 to 7 months after the birth; 62.5 percent (n = 1336) responded.

Results:

Most of the sample (64%) stayed in hospital for 5 or more days after the birth, 26.6 percent left on day 3 or 4, and 9.4 percent on day 1 or 2. Compared with women who stayed for 5 or more days, women who left in the first 48 hours were more likely to be multiparous; to have attended public models of care (public hospital clinic, shared care, public general practitioner, birth center); not to have private health insurance; to have experienced a lower level of obstetric intervention; and to have a very low income. Twenty-one percent of women who left within 48 hours, and 26 percent of those who left on day 3 or 4 described their stay as too short. Women who left on day 3 or 4, or within 48 hours, were not more likely to experience any of the adverse outcomes investigated in the study: breastfeeding problems, low confidence about caring for the baby, or depression 6 to 7 months after birth. Women who left on day 3 or 4 had slightly lower rates of breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months than women staying for longer or shorter periods.

Conclusion:

Concerns about possible adverse outcomes resulting from shorter postnatal stays were not borne out by the study findings. Large and carefully designed randomized trials are needed to resolve continuing uncertainties about the safety and possible benefits of shorter hospital stays. (BIRTH 24:3, September 1997)