Various clinical practices have been found to be associated with breast-feeding problems. However, little is known about the effect of pain, obstetrical procedures and analgesia on breast-feeding behaviour. We designed a retrospective study with a questionnaire concerning pain, obstetrical procedures and breast-feeding practices mailed to 164 primiparae in Lapland. Altogether 99 mothers (60%) returned completed questionnaires that could be included in the analysis, which was carried out in two steps. Firstly, all accepted questionnaires were grouped according to the success or failure to breast-feed fully during the first 12 weeks of life. Secondly, an ad hoc cohort study was performed on the sub-sample of 64 mothers delivered vaginally. As many as 44% of the 99 mothers reported partial breast feeding or formula feeding during the first 12 weeks. Older age of the mother, use of epidural analgesia and the problem of "not having enough milk" were associated with the failure to breast-feed fully. Caesarean section, other methods of labour analgesia and other breast-feeding problems were not associated with partial breast feeding or formula feeding. In the sub-sample, 67% of the mothers who had laboured with epidural analgesia and 29% of the mothers who laboured without epidural analgesia reported partial breast feeding or formula feeding (P = 0.003). The problem of "not having enough milk" was more often reported by those who had had epidural analgesia. Further studies conducted prospectively are needed to establish whether a causal relationship exists between epidural analgesia and breast-feeding problems.