This paper is a report of a study to develop and evaluate a childbirth educational programme for Malawian women.Background. Providing parent education is integral to the midwife’s role. Malawian midwives face a challenge in fulfilling this role, with no existing childbirth education programme to facilitate this process.Method. A mixed method approach was used for this three-phase study. In Phase 1, childbirth information needs of Malawian women were determined from literature and interviews with midwives. In Phase 2, a structured childbirth education programme was developed. In Phase 3, a quasi-experimental design using sequential sampling was conducted to evaluate the education programme. Participants were pregnant women who attended antenatal clinics in 2002, with 104 in the control group and 105 in the intervention group. Changes in childbirth knowledge were determined over a 6-week period.Findings. The childbirth education programme included information, teaching strategies and a schedule for implementation for content relevant to the antenatal, labour and birth and postnatal time periods. Results revealed no significant difference in knowledge in the control group between pretest and post-test scores. For the intervention group, however, an overall significant increase in knowledge across all time periods was demonstrated (P <0·01).Conclusion. A childbirth education programme, developed for the Malawian context, was associated with important increases in maternal knowledge about antenatal, labour and birth and postnatal topics. The findings have implications for midwives in other developing countries and offer an example of a midwifery-led initiative to provide formal childbirth education to these vulnerable women.