Epidural butorphanol 1, 2 and 4 mg were compared with morphine, 5 mg, for postoperative analgesia in 92 consenting, healthy, term parturients who had undergone Caesarean section under epidural lidocaine anaesthesia in a randomized double-blind study. Postoperative pain was assessed using a visual analogue scale and recorded with heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. The demographic characteristics, and the incidences of primary and repeat Caesarean sections, were not different among the four treatment groups. At 15, 30, 45 and 60 min after treatment the median pain scores following butorphanol were similar and lower than those following morphine (P less than 0.05). Calculated median percentage pain relief values for butorphanol were higher than morphine at each of these times (P less than 0.05). At 90 min and 2 hr the pain scores and pain relief values were similar. Beyond 45 min the number of patients requesting supplemental medication and dropping out of the study increased progressively in both the butorphanol and morphine treated patients. The attrition profiles for butorphanol were different from morphine (P less than 0.01). The median time in the study was greater than 24 hr for morphine, and 3, 2.5 and 4 hr for butorphanol, 1, 2 or 4 mg, respectively. No patient developed a clinically important change in heart rate or blood pressure, and none experienced a decrease in respiratory rate below 12 breaths.min-1. One of 69 patients (1.4 per cent) who received butorphanol developed pruritus compared with ten (43 per cent) of 23 patients who received morphine. The global assessments of the adequacy of analgesia were indistinguishable between morphine and butorphanol. Epidural butorphanol provides safe, effective postoperative analgesia, has a prompt onset, and a limited duration.