Background: How women experience childbirth is acknowledged as critical to the postnatal wellbeing of mother and
baby. However there is a knowledge deficit in identifying the important elements of these experiences in order to
enhance care. This study elicits women’s preferences for the most important elements of their childbirth experiences.
Methods: A mixed methods design was used. An initial qualitative phase (reported previously) was followed by a
second quantitative one using a discrete choice experiment (DCE), which is reported on here. Participants who had
experienced labour, were over 18 and had a healthy baby were recruited from four randomly selected and one pilot
hospital in the Republic of Ireland. Data were collected by means of a DCE survey instrument. Questions were piloted,
refined, and then arranged in eight pair-wise scenarios. Women identified their preferences by choosing one scenario
over another. Nine hundred and five women were sent the DCE three months after childbirth, with a response rate of
59.3% (N =531).
Results: Women clearly identified priorities for their childbirth experiences as: the availability of pain relief, partnership
with the midwife, and individualised care being the most important attributes. In the context of other choices, women
rated decision-making, presence of a consultant, and interventions as less important elements. Comments from open
questions provided contextual information about their choices.
Conclusions: Most women did not want to be typified as wanting the dichotomy of ‘all natural’ or ‘all technology’
births but wanted ‘the best of both worlds’. The results suggest that availability of pain relief was the most important
element of women’s childbirth experiences, and superseded all other elements including partnership with the midwife
which was the second most important attribute. The preferences identified might reflect the busy medicalised hospital
environments, in which the vast majority of women had given birth, and may differ in settings such as midwifery led
care or home births.
Keywords: Childbirth experiences, Mixed methods, Discrete Choice Experiment