There is little evidence to associate attendance at antenatal classes with a reduction in psychological distress or increased satisfaction with the experience of labour. There may be several reasons for this, including failure to implement coping strategies. A within-subjects research design explored the use in labour of coping strategies taught in antenatal classes and the role of practice. Women's views about using these strategies and their expectations of their midwives and birth companions were also identified. Following Ethics Committee approval and providing informed consent, 121 nulliparous women completed a questionnaire at their final antenatal class. This included questions on confidence and the amount of effort required to use coping strategies, the involvement hoped for from birth companions and midwives in using coping strategies in labour and satisfaction with the amount of practice of coping strategies. Within 72 hours of delivery, women were interviewed to obtain a narrative of the events of labour and their use of the coping strategies (sighing-out-slowly breathing, Laura Mitchell relaxation and postural change). A questionnaire obtained information on the involvement of the midwife and birth companion. Women used the three coping strategies to different extents. Midwives were not involved to the extent that women had hoped for antenatally. Birth companions achieved a level of involvement closer to women's hopes than that achieved by midwives. A significant proportion of women expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of practice of coping strategies during antenatal classes. The findings of this study of a group of well-prepared women raise questions about the correct components of antenatal classes and how midwives and birth companions can be involved optimally in this aspect of a woman's labour. Further research is required to determine how women can best be helped to cope with the experience of labour.