BACKGROUND: Changing Childbirth (1993), a report on the future of maternity services in the United Kingdom, endorsed the development of a primarily community based midwifery led service for normal pregnancy, with priority given to the provision of "woman centred care". This has led to the development of local schemes emphasising continuity of midwifery care and increased choice and control for women. AIMS: To compare two models of midwifery group practices (shared caseload and personal caseload) in terms of: (a) the extent to which women see the same midwife antenatally and know the delivery midwife, and (b) women's preference for continuity and satisfaction with their care. METHODS: A review of maternity case notes and survey of a cohort of women at 36 weeks of gestation and 2 weeks postpartum who attended the two midwifery group practices. Questionnaires were completed by 247 women antenatally (72% response) and 222 (68%) postnatally. Outcome measures were the level of continuity experienced during antenatal, intrapartum, and postnatal care, women's preferences for continuity of carer, and ratings of satisfaction with care. RESULTS: The higher level of antenatal continuity of carer with personal caseload midwifery was associated with a lower percentage having previously met their main delivery midwife (60% v 74%). Women's preferences for antenatal continuity were significantly associated with their experiences. Postnatal rating of knowing the delivery midwife as "very important indeed" was associated with both previous antenatal ratings of its importance, and women's actual experiences. Personal continuity of carer was not a clear predictor of women's satisfaction with care. Of greater importance were women's expectations, their relations with midwives, communication, and involvement in decision making. CONCLUSIONS: Midwifery led schemes based on both shared and personal caseloads are acceptable to women. More important determinants of quality and women's satisfaction are the ethos of care consistency of care, good communication, and participation in decisions.
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