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The cost of childbirth and the hidden bills to prepare for


A baby is born in Australia every two minutes.

The vast majority of these babies will come into the world in a hospital setting, with just a tiny number born in birth centres or at home.

Choosing where to have your baby is often a complex and personal decision — influenced by health risks, availability of services, personal preference and, of course, cost.

But the cost of health care is often shrouded in secrecy and confusion.

"There is a lack of availability of linked data," says Dr Emily Callander, a health economist at James Cook University.

She says this means information is not collected about each patient and the various services they access, making it difficult to calculate the total costs.

The lack of clear potential costs makes things harder for many expectant parents, especially if it's their first major experience with the health system.

Many are unaware of what is covered by Medicare or their private health insurance, Dr Callander says.

"What is needed is greater transparency of fees. That would allow women to shop around for the best value that fits in their budget," she says.

Whatever the budget and choice of setting, every birth is different.

With that in mind, we spoke to mothers who have experienced giving birth in a public hospital, in the private system, in shared care and at home.

This is not about the merits of each choice. This is about the real cost of childbirth.

Having a baby can be really expensive! How did you budget for the costs of childbirth and were there any surprise expenses? Email life@abc.net.au

Public hospital out-of-pocket costs: $0-$1,500*

Despite the available alternatives, three-quarters of all pregnant women choose to give birth in the public system.

Cassy Oberin had her baby Flynn at the local public hospital seven months ago.

"After everything I'd heard from talking to friends, it just didn't make sense to pay the extra money to go private," she says.

"Everything went really smoothly. The midwives were there the whole time — they were constantly checking. Flynn came out really quickly, thankfully."

She says she was also pleased to be given a private room with her own bathroom — not common in the public system, but clearly still a possibility.

However, the experience was in stark contrast to the birth of her eldest son, three-year-old Archer, at the same public hospital.

"I was in the admittance area for four hours, and the only painkiller they could give me was paracetamol," she says.

When she did get into a birthing suite hours later, midwives were in short supply.

"We were left alone a lot. I didn't get any pain relief except gas — there wasn't anyone available," she said.

And afterwards there was little help with breastfeeding.

But it didn't deter her from going public second time around.

"I understand they were busy — it was no-one's fault. It was the system at its peak and every birth is different," Cassy says.

And the total cost? About $600.

"The only things we had to pay for were the ultrasounds — probably about $200 to $300 each," she says.

But the total out-of-pocket costs could be up to $1,500, depending on which provider you use and how many scans and other tests you require.

Key facts:

If you give birth using the public hospital system, most of your costs will be covered by Medicare.

What's covered?

  • Your visits to midwives or obstetricians in the public hospital during pregnancy
  • The actual birth, whether it's via caesarean or vaginally

What's not covered?

  • Some scans or pathology tests if done outside the hospital, but Medicare offers a rebate for most
  • Medicines

Private hospital out-of-pocket costs: $2,500-$20,000*

Joeline Hamilton gave birth to her two daughters, four-year-old Lucrezia and 21-month-old Emiliana in the private system.

"I had a miscarriage in the public health system and had a very bad experience," she says.

Joeline was keen to see just one doctor for the entire experience, which is possible in the private system.

"I was a bit more emotionally vulnerable in a sense. I was bit more anxious about the pregnancy," says Joeline.


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