Background: Contemporary broad descriptions of health and well-being are reflected in an increasing appreciation of quality of life issues; in turn this has led to a growing number of tools to measure this. Methods: This paper reviews articles cited in MEDLINE, CINAHL and BIDS which have addressed the concept of quality of life in pregnancy and the period following childbirth. Results: It describes five groups of articles: those explicitly assessing quality of life in this area; those using broader health assessments as an indicator of quality of life; those articles equating quality of life with certain pregnancy outcomes in identified groups of patients; those studies which identify the possibility of pregnancy as an outcome measure and infer from this that quality of life has been improved; and those articles which are themselves reviews or commentaries of pregnancy and childbirth and which identify quality of life as a feature. Conclusions: The term 'quality of life' is used inconsistently in the literature. There are few quality of life tools specifically designed for the maternity care setting. Improved or adversely affected quality of life is frequently inferred from certain clinical conditions.