BACKGROUND: Maternal obesity, excess weight gain and lifestyle behaviours during pregnancy have been associated with future overweight and other adverse health outcomes for mothers and babies. This study compared the nutrition and physical activity behaviours of Australian healthy (BMI ≤ 25 k/m(2)) and overweight (BMI ≥ 25 kg/m(2)) pregnant women and described their knowledge and receipt of health professional advice early in pregnancy. METHODS: Pregnant women (n=58) aged 29±5 (mean±s.d.) years were recruited at 16±2 weeks gestation from an Australian metropolitan hospital. Height and weight were measured using standard procedures and women completed a self administered semi-quantitative survey. RESULTS: Healthy and overweight women had very similar levels of knowledge, behaviour and levels of advice provided except where specifically mentioned. Only 8% and 36% of participants knew the correct recommended daily number of fruit and vegetable serves respectively. Four percent of participants ate the recommended 5 serves/day of vegetables. Overweight women were less likely than healthy weight women to achieve the recommended fruit intake (4% vs. 8%, p=0.05), and more likely to consume soft drinks or cordial (55% vs 43%, p=0.005) and take away foods (37% vs. 25%, p=0.002) once a week or more. Less than half of all women achieved sufficient physical activity. Despite 80% of women saying they would have liked education about nutrition, physical activity and weight gain, particularly at the beginning of pregnancy, less than 50% were given appropriate advice regarding healthy eating and physical activity. CONCLUSION: Healthy pregnancy behaviour recommendations were not being met, with overweight women less likely to meet some of the recommendations. Knowledge of dietary recommendations was poor and health care professional advice was limited. There are opportunities to improve the health care practices and education pregnant women received to improve knowledge and behaviours. Pregnant women appear to want this.