The need for pain relief during uncomplicated labour and delivery was studied in 125 women attending an Alternative Birth Center (ABC) and 170 women attending an obstetrical ward. The ABC was staffed only with midwives and assistant nurses who took care of all deliveries. In case of complications the doctor on duty at the obstetrical ward could come in a few minutes and the patient was transferred to the obstetrical ward. At the ABC the delivery room was next to the sleeping rooms and the living room and the woman in labour could have a chat with the women, who had given birth. At the obstetrical ward this was not possible. The delivery rooms were on one floor, and after giving birth the woman was moved to another floor. Women at the ABC were older and had a higher social status than women at the obstetrical ward. Twenty four of the 170 women had initially planned to give birth at the ABC but gave birth at the obstetrical ward due to accommodation restrictions at the ABC. Women refused by the ABC resembled women giving birth at the ABC but their need for pain relief was identical with the other women giving birth at the obstetrical ward. Pain relief with pethidine was 4 times more frequent among women giving birth at the obstetrical ward (18%) than at the ABC (4.8%). Pethidine was predominantly administered to young women and primiparas at the obstetrical ward and to women with prolonged labour at both birthplaces.