The effectiveness of insecticide-treated bednets (ITBN) in preventing malaria and anaemia among primigravidae living in Kilifi District, Kenya, was assessed by a randomized controlled trial between September 1994 and November 1995. All residents within 28 community clusters received ITBN in July 1993, whilst residents of another 28 clusters served as contemporaneous controls. All resident primigravid women with singleton pregnancies attending antenatal care at Kilifi District Hospital were eligible for recruitment. 503 primigravidae were recruited. 91.4% were anaemic antenatally (Hb < 11 g/dl): 91.0% from the intervention arm and 92.0% from the control arm. Severe anaemia (Hb < 7 g/dl) was found among 15.1% of intervention women and 20.1% of control women (P = 0.28). No significant differences were observed in reports of febrile illness or the presence of chloroquine in the serum or peripheral parasitaemia during the third trimester between the two groups. In the women delivering in hospital (n = 130), there was no association between placental malaria infection and the intervention: 77.4% of placentas from control women had evidence of past or active infection, compared with 72.0% of placentas from intervention women (P = 0.76). Similarly, in the women delivering in hospital, ITBN did not improve birth weight, and there were no differences in perinatal mortality between the two study groups. Despite ITBN having a great impact on paediatric severe malaria and mortality in this transmission setting, there was very little impact of ITBN on the morbidity associated with malaria infection in primigravidae. Alternative strategies are required to tackle this continued public health problem for pregnant women living in endemic areas similar to the Kenyan Coast.