OBJECTIVE: To assess and contrast women's views of antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care based on data collected in three state-wide surveys of recent mothers conducted in 1989, 1994 and 2000. METHODS: Postal surveys were mailed to all women who gave birth in Victoria in one week in 1989, and in two weeks in 1993 and 1999, excluding those who had a stillbirth or neonatal death. Questionnaires were sent to women by hospitals and home birth practitioners 5-8 months after the birth. RESULTS: 58.6% of women participating in the 1989 survey rated their antenatal care as 'very good' compared with 62.4% in 1994 and 66.5% in 2000 (chi 2 for trend = 15.01, p < 0.001). In all three surveys, women enrolled in public models of care were significantly more likely to rate their antenatal care as less than 'very good' than women enrolled in private models of care. More than two-thirds of the women in each survey rated their intrapartum care as 'very good' (1989-67%, 1994-71%, 2000-72%). Over the time period there was an improvement in the proportion of women rating their care as 'very good' among women in private care (chi 2 for trend = 33.1, p < 0.001), but no improvement was seen in public care. Only 52% (1994) and 51% (2000) of women rated their postnatal care as 'very good'. CONCLUSIONS: The conduct of three population-based surveys of recent mothers in Victoria over the past 10 years has provided valuable information for charting the impact of organisational changes on women's views and experiences of maternity care.