BACKGROUND: Little research has been conducted on the views of health professionals about women's experiences of depression after childbirth. This study compared the views held by undergraduate medical students about postnatal depression with those of women who had themselves experienced it. METHODS: Fourth- and sixth-year medical students at one Australian university were surveyed (n = 134). Their views about prevalence, duration, contributing factors, and advice for dealing with postnatal depression were compared with the findings from 60 women in a population-based study of mothers who gave birth in Victoria in 1989, in which women scoring as depressed 8 to 9 months after birth on the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale were interviewed 12 to 18 months later about their experiences of depression and their advice to other mothers. RESULTS: Women's and students' views differed markedly, with students much more likely to view hormonal and biologic factors and a "tendency to depression" as playing an important role than women who identified a wide range of social, physical health, and life event factors as contributing to their experience of depression. Fourth-year students tended to overestimate the prevalence of depression and sixth-year students to underestimate it. Both groups underestimated the duration of depression compared with women's actual experiences. CONCLUSION: Medical students need to develop a broader understanding of maternal depression after the birth of a baby, and women's own views of the experience can and should make an important contribution to medical teaching on this topic.