BACKGROUND: Concerns have been raised in Australia and internationally regarding the quality and effectiveness of hospital postnatal care, although Australian women receiving postnatal care in the private maternity sector rate their satisfaction with care more highly than women receiving public maternity care. In Victoria, Australia, two-thirds of women receive their maternity care in the public sector and the remainder in private health care sector. A statewide review of public hospital postnatal care in Victoria from the perspective of care providers found many barriers to care provision including the busyness of postnatal wards, inadequate staffing and priority being given to other episodes of care; however the study did not include private hospitals. The aim of this study was replicate the review in the private sector, to explore the structure and organisation of postnatal care in private hospitals and identify those aspects of care potentially impacting on women's experiences and maternal and infant care. This provides a more complete overview of the organisational structures and processes in postnatal care in all Victorian hospitals from the perspective of care providers. METHODS: A mixed method design was used. A structured postal survey was sent to all Victorian private hospitals (n = 19) and key informant interviews were undertaken with selected clinical midwives, maternity unit managers and obstetricians (n = 11). Survey data were analysed using descriptive statistics and interview data analysed thematically. RESULTS: Private hospital care providers report that postnatal care is provided in very busy environments, and that meeting the aims of postnatal care (breastfeeding support, education of parents and facilitating rest and recovery for women following birth) was difficult in the context of increased acuity of postnatal care; prioritising of other areas over postnatal care; high midwife-to-woman ratios; and the number and frequency of visitors. These findings were similar to the public review. Organisational differences in postnatal care were found between the two sectors: private hospitals are more likely to have a separate postnatal care unit with single rooms and can accommodate partners' over-night; very few have a policy of infant rooming-in; and most have well-baby nurseries. Private hospitals are also more likely to employ staff other than midwives, have fewer core postnatal staff and have a greater dependence on casual and bank staff to provide postnatal care. CONCLUSIONS: There are similarities and differences in the organisation and provision of private postnatal care compared to postnatal care in public hospitals. Key differences between the two sectors relate to the organisational and aesthetic aspects of service provision rather than the delivery of postnatal care. The key messages emerging from both reviews is the need to review and monitor the adequacy of staffing levels and to develop alternative approaches to postnatal care to improve this episode of care for women and care providers alike. We also recommend further research to provide a greater evidence-base for postnatal care provision.