Background Maternity services struggle to provide culturally appropriate care that meets the needs of women from diverse populations. Problems include simplistic understandings of ethnicity and the role of culture in women's lives, and stereotypes held by health practitioners. Objective To explore the extent to which cultural context makes a difference to experiences of breast-feeding support for women of Bangladeshi origin and to consider the implications for the provision of culturally appropriate care. Methods The study comprised individual interviews with 23 women of Bangladeshi origin and four health service managers, and focus group discussions with 28 health practitioners between February and December 2008. Participants were recruited from four localities in northern England. Results Women's rich descriptions of various facets of their identities were in contrast to practitioners' representations of women of Bangladeshi origin as homogenous. Practitioners did not recognize when the needs of women of Bangladeshi origin were similar to those of the majority white population, or where cultural context made a difference to their experiences of breast-feeding and breast-feeding support. Some practitioners used cultural stereotypes which, combined with organizational constraints, resulted in services not meeting many of the women's needs. Conclusions Implications for education, policy and practice include the need for training of health practitioners to work with diverse populations, implementing evidence-based practice and providing an organizational context which supports practitioners to respond to diversity without using cultural stereotypes.