The aim of the study was to examine the effect of the introduction of a new food-support benefit ‘Healthy Start’ (HS) on dietary intakes and eating patterns of low-income, Caucasian, pregnant and postpartum women living in Sheffield (UK). A before-and-after study comparing nutritional behaviour of participants, who were beneficiaries or eligible for the Welfare Food Scheme (WFS) (phase 1) or HS (phase 2), was conducted. Dietary intakes and eating patterns were assessed using a validated semi-quantified FFQ. In phase 1, 176 WFS subjects (ninety pregnant and eighty-six postpartum) were recruited and in phase 2, there were 160 HS subjects (ninety-six pregnant and sixty-four postpartum). The results suggested that pregnant and postpartum HS women significantly increased their daily intakes of energy, Fe, Ca, folate and vitamin C compared with the WFS women. Observed differences remained significant after controlling for potential confounding effects of known factors, i.e. education and age. HS women were more likely to meet the recommended nutrient intakes for Fe, folate, Ca and vitamin C. HS women ate significantly more mean portions of fruit and vegetables per d (P = 0·004 and P = 0·023) respectively. None of the HS recipients was receiving HS vitamin supplements. The present study showed that pregnant and postpartum HS women increased their food consumption, and a higher proportion of them than the earlier WFS scheme met the recommended intakes for Ca, folate, Fe and vitamin C.