Epidural analgesia is one of the preferred methods of analgesia for labour. The aim of the present survey was to evaluate current practice in obstetric analgesia in departments of anaesthesia and to make a comparison with former surveys from Germany and other countries. Questionnaires on the practice of pain relief, especially epidural analgesia, during labour and delivery were sent to 1178 anaesthesic departments in Germany in the second half of 1996. Five hundred and thirty-two completed replies were received, which represent 46.9% of all German obstetric units. The majority of the departments of anaesthesia practising epidural analgesia have an epidural rate of less than 10% and 10.2% of the departments do not offer this method to their parturients. In 86.8% of all units performing epidural analgesia, the epidural catheter is placed by an anaesthetist. Only 6.5% of the units provide a 24-h epidural service which is exclusively assigned to labour and delivery. In 77.8% of the units, this service is not exclusively assigned to obstetrics, but also to other duties. Of the obstetric units offering epidural analgesia, 14.7% have no epidural service at night. Plain local anaesthetics for epidural analgesia are used by 55.9% of the departments, a combination of local anaesthetics with epidural opioids by 28.7%. Epidural analgesia is predominantly (82.2%) maintained by intermittent bolus administration. Although the rate of epidural analgesia increased during recent decades, this method is not offered to all parturients. Further improvements in the use of epidural analgesia for labour seem to be necessary.