BACKGROUND: We hypothesized that voluntary counselling and testing during pregnancy are necessary but not sufficient to provide the holistic psychosocial support needed by Jamaican women living with HIV and/or AIDS. Based on this hypothesis, we investigated a range of coping methods and support systems used by HIV-infected women and a group of their HIV-negative counterparts before, during and immediately after their pregnancies. METHODS: Women attending obstetric clinics in urban Jamaica completed a quantitative survey aimed at discovering coping behaviours, social and spiritual support systems. Pre-survey focus group studies and key informant interviews contributed to the design of the questionnaire while post-survey focus groups were used to probe the validity of the data gleaned from the questionnaire survey Survey data were analyzed using non-parametric tests for trend with independent univariate tests. RESULTS: Fifty-five HIV-infected women and 51 HIV-negative women completed the survey Compared with HIV-negative women, more HIV-infected women reported both feeling depressed (p = 0.07) and having difficulty concentrating (p = 0.05) during the month immediately prior to the study. Other statistically significant differences included: HIV-infected women were more likely to pray, to sleep and to change eating habits in response to worry and stress (p = 0.001 in each instance). Although several women declared religious faith, significantly fewer HIV-infected women were willing to talk to a religious leader about their problems compared to their HIV-negative counterparts (p < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: Participation of HIV-infected women in post-survey focus groups augmented the survey findings. Many of the women reported negative emotions and some indicated serious challenges in accessing social support. The results point to the need for systematic documentation of psychosocial profiles as part of the approach to caring for these women. In addition, in the Jamaican sociocultural context, we recommend improved training of religious leaders and healthcare providers in psychosocial issues.