Background. Deprivation during pregnancy and the neonatal period increases maternal morbidity, reduces birth weight and impairs child development, with lifelong consequences. Many poor countries provide grants to mitigate the impact of poverty during pregnancy. South Africa (SA) offers a post-delivery Child Support Grant (CSG), which could encompass support during pregnancy, informed by lessons learnt from similar grants. Objectives. To review design and operational features of pregnancy support programmes, highlighting features that promote their effectiveness and efficiency, and implications thereof for SA. Methods. Systematic review of programmes providing cash or other support during pregnancy in low- and middle-income countries. Results. Thirty-two programmes were identified, across 27 countries. Programmes aimed to influence health service utilisation, but also longer-term health and social outcomes. Half included conditionalities around service utilisation. Multifaceted support, such as cash and vouchers, necessitated complex parallel administrative procedures. Five included design features to diminish perverse incentives. These and other complex features were often abandoned over time. Operational barriers and administrative costs were lowest in programmes with simplified procedures and that were integrated within child support. Conclusions. Pregnancy support in SA would be feasible and effective if integrated within existing social support programmes and operationally simple. This requires uncomplicated enrolment procedures (e.g. an antenatal card), cash-only support, and few or no conditionalities. To overcome political barriers to implementation, the design might initially need to include features that discourage pregnancy incentives. Support could incentivise service utilisation, without difficult-to-measure conditionalities. Beginning the CSG in pregnancy would be operationally simple and could substantially transform maternal and child health.