In response to the concept that a good postpartum program should begin prenatally, this study was designed to determine whether the provision of expert contraceptive counseling during the antenatal period would have an impact on contraceptive uptake, patterns of contraceptive usage, and pregnancy rates during the first year after childbirth. Over 500 women attending antenatal clinics in each of three centers (Edinburgh, Scotland; Shanghai, People's Republic of China; Cape Town, South Africa) were randomized to receive expert contraceptive advice (participants, n = 771) or the standard advice routinely given in that setting (controls, n = 866). Follow-up was by postal or interviewer-administered questionnaires at 16 and 52 weeks after childbirth. There were no significant differences in the prevalence of contraceptive use at one year (over 79% in all centers) between participants and controls. In Edinburgh, participants were more likely to undergo sterilization (p < 0.01) than controls, otherwise there were no differences among Edinburgh, Shanghai, or Cape Town in either the methods of contraception chosen or in the methods used over time. Contraceptive counseling delivered antenatally appeared to have no impact on the pregnancy rate during the first year after childbirth. In Shanghai, over 11% of women in both groups underwent termination of pregnancy in the year of follow-up. In conclusion, although women in all centers said they found the opportunity to discuss contraception antenatally was useful, it had very little effect on contraceptive use or on subsequent pregnancy rates.