OBJECTIVE: To explore the relationships between women's emotional well-being after childbirth and several measures of the social context of motherhood. DESIGN AND PARTICIPANTS: Case-control study of 45 women who were identified as depressed in a population-based postal survey 8-9 months after giving birth and 45 randomly selected women who were not depressed. At follow-up about two years after the birth, the women were interviewed at home about their experiences of motherhood and their emotional well-being since the birth. They also completed five standard questionnaires: Life Experiences Questionnaire; Toddler Temperament Scale; Social Support Questionnaire; Experience of Motherhood Questionnaire; and the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. RESULTS: Women in the case group were more likely to be depressed at follow-up than women in the control group. They reported less practical and emotional support from their partners and saw themselves as having less social support overall. They had also experienced more negative life events since the birth, had poorer health and were somewhat more likely to have a "difficult" toddler. CONCLUSIONS: It is important to take social context into account in understanding depression after childbirth and in helping mothers who are depressed.