This study examined differences between the ideas and experiences of pregnancy and childbirth of Asian and non-Asian women giving birth in East London, and sources of variability in Asian women's accounts. In line with the findings of previous research, Asian women's ideas about diet in pregnancy, the gender of their children and postnatal care (e.g. the need for rest and recovery, and restrictions on their activities) were influenced by cultural beliefs and practices. However, in other ways Asian women demonstrated a strong commitment to Western maternity care. In contrast to some other studies Asian women wanted their husbands or partners present at delivery, indicating the extent to which traditional ideas are being modified. Qualitative analysis of Asian women's fuller accounts indicated that women subscribed to traditional practice as well as Western maternity care. Acculturation or familiarity with Western ideas about maternity care was associated with variability in Asian women's ideas and experiences, in line with previous research. However, in spite of frequent assumptions about its significance, religion was not associated with variability in Asian women's ideas and experiences. Parity, however, was a major variable, for Asian and for non-Asian women, suggesting that the first birth has different significance for parents than subsequent births. The implications for the provision of maternity care are discussed, especially the need to go beyond stereotypical views based on women's ethnicity or religion to consider the beliefs and preferences of women as individuals and their personal circumstances.