Pregnant women consuming plant-based diets are at risk of Zn deficiency; Zn requirements for fetal growth and maternal tissue accretion are high. Therefore we have studied, at 24 and 33 weeks gestation, the Zn status of eighty-seven pregnant rural Malawian women (mean age 22·7 years) who consume maize-based diets, using anthropometry, dietary intake data, plasma and hair Zn concentrations, and infection status via serum C-reactive protein, leucocyte count, and malaria blood smear. Of the women, 12% were stunted (height-for-age Z score < -2 SD) and 20% lost weight over the 9-week period; weight gain averaged 0·13 kg/week. Mean plasma Zn concentration declined significantly from 24 to 33 weeks (7·9 (SD 2·2) v. 6·6 (SD 2·0) μmol/l; P < 0·0003). Both plasma and hair Zn values were very low; nearly 50% of the women had both plasma and hair Zn values below acceptable cut-off values. No significant differences in biochemical Zn indices existed between those who tested positive and negative for infection. Cereals (mainly maize) provided more than two-thirds of mean energy intake compared with less than 5% from flesh foods. As a result about 60% of the subjects had dietary phytate: Zn molar ratios greater than 15, and more than 35% had inadequate Zn intakes based on probability estimates and WHO basal requirements. Biochemical evidence of Zn deficiency was attributed in part to low intakes of poorly available Zn. The anthropometric, biochemical, and dietary data together indicate that Zn deficiency may be a factor limiting pregnancy outcome in rural Malawian women.