Studies that have investigated ascorbic acid (AA) concentrations in cord blood have pointed to significant associations with maternal blood AA concentrations, smoking, age, diet, type of delivery, duration of gestation, fetal distress and birth weight. The aim of the present study was to determine the relationship between cord blood AA concentrations in newborns and maternal characteristics. A total of 117 Brazilian healthy parturients were included in this cross-sectional study. The concentrations of AA in blood were determined by the HPLC method. Data concerning socio-economic, demographic, obstetric, nutritional and health characteristics of the parturients, including alcohol consumption and smoking habit, were assessed by a standardised questionnaire. A FFQ was used to investigate the intake of foods rich in vitamin C. Cord blood AA concentration was significantly correlated with per capita income (r 0·26; P = 0·005), maternal blood AA concentration (r 0·48; P < 0·001) and maternal vitamin C-rich food intake score (r 0·36; P < 0·001). The linear regression model including maternal AA concentration, alcohol consumption, smoking, parity, vitamin C-rich food intake score and per capita income explained 31·13 % of the variation in cord blood AA concentrations in newborns. We recommend further experimental studies to assess the effects of ethanol on placental AA uptake, and epidemiological cohort studies to evaluate in detail the influence of maternal alcohol consumption on cord blood AA concentrations.