© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. Objectives In order to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes, it is important to understand how to maximise the utilisation of MNCH services. The supply side (service-driven) factors affecting access to MNCH services are more commonly studied and are better understood than the demand side (community led) factors. The aim of this study was to identify demand and supply determinants of access to MNCH services in Malawi. Methods Research was conducted in two districts of the Central Region of Malawi (Nkhotakota & Mchinji). Qualitative interviews (n = 85) and focus group discussions (n = 20) were conducted with a range of community members, leaders and health workers. Data were managed in NVivo (v10) and analysed using framework analysis, using Levesque et al. (2013) access framework. Results Community members clearly recognise their need for and seek out MNCH care from the formal health system. Women experience difficulties reaching health services and when reached find them limited, characterised by many indirect costs. There are many technical and interpersonal deficits, which results in poor satisfaction and reportedly poor outcomes for women. Conclusions for practice Women are seeking and utilising MNCH services which they find under-resourced and unwelcoming. Utilising the Levesque et al. (2013) framework, a granular analysis of demand and supply factors has identified the many challenges that remain to achieving equitable access to MNCH services in Malawi. Community members experience lack of availability, acceptability and appropriateness of these essential services.