Objective To assess the expectations of antenatal care of pregnant women at the outset of pregnancy.

Design Questionnaire study within a randomised controlled trial, comparing traditional antenatal care with a more flexible schedule.

Setting Eleven primary care centres providing midwifery care in Avon.

Population Five hundred and ninety-three pregnant women at low risk of obstetric complications presenting for antenatal care.

Methods A questionnaire was completed by women who agreed to participate in the trial shortly after antenatal booking. The questionnaire explored women's views on their attitudes to pregnancy and antenatal care, the locus of control related to pregnancy, the planning of the pregnancy and expectations of care.

Main outcome measures Comparisons between nulliparous and multiparous women in terms of their views of antenatal care, and their stated preference for a particular package of care.

Results There was no difference in their views of pregnancy as an event entailing risk. On a locus of control scale that measured women's perceptions of factors which might affect their babies’ health, nulliparous women rated antenatal care higher than multiparous women (P= 0.0001). However, this was not associated with any difference between the two groups in their stated preference for traditional or flexible care. Approximately half of the women expressed no preference, and of those who did 61% would opt for traditional care. Almost one-fifth of the whole sample welcomed the idea of flexible care.

Discussion These data support the evidence of previous studies that there remains a strong desire among pregnant women to receive a ‘traditional’ pattern of care, even among those who have previously experienced normal pregnancy. However, a minority can be identified at the outset of pregnancy who may welcome a change to a more flexible pattern of care.