OBJECTIVE: To assess maternal satisfaction with childbirth and intrapartum pain relief in nulliparous women labouring at term. METHODS: Prospective randomised clinical trial comparing epidural and non-epidural analgesic techniques on term labour outcomes in nulliparous women. Within 24 h of delivery the women were surveyed regarding their opinions about the birthing experience and the allocated analgesic regimen. A postal survey was conducted 6 months postpartum to assess opinions about intrapartum analgesia in a subsequent pregnancy. RESULTS: A total of 992 women were randomised to receive continuous midwifery support (CMS) or epidural (EPI) analgesia on presentation for delivery. There was a high crossover rate from CMS to EPI (61.2%) and a lesser non-compliance rate in the EPI group (27.8%). The early post-partum recollections revealed a high satisfaction with epidural analgesia and lower satisfaction with alternative pain relief measures. Ten percent of women in the CMS group reported negative feelings about their allocated pain relief compared with 1% in the EPI group (P < 0.001), and 10% of all women reported negative feelings about their overall childbirth experience. At the 6-month postpartum survey factors associated with the planned use of epidural analgesia in a subsequent pregnancy were induction of labour (odds ratio (OR) 2.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.2, 4.7) and prior utilisation of epidural analgesia (OR 28.1, 95% CI 14.5, 54.7). CONCLUSIONS: Maternal satisfaction with intrapartum analgesia was significantly higher with epidural analgesia than non-epidural analgesic techniques. Overall satisfaction scores for labour and delivery were high regardless of analgesic approach, reflecting the multiple issues other than pain relief that are involved in the childbirth experience.