The fetal and early postnatal environment can have a long-term influence on offspring growth. Using a pig model, we investigated the effects of maternal body condition (thin or fat) and maternal gestation feeding level (restricted, control or high) on maternal stress, milk composition, litter size, piglet birth weight and pre-weaning growth. A total of sixty-eight thin (backfat depth about 8 mm) and seventy-two fat (backfat depth about 12 mm) gilts were selected at about 22 weeks. This backfat difference was then accentuated nutritionally up to service at about 32 weeks. During gestation, individual gilts from within each group were randomly allocated to a gestation diet at the following feed allowances: 1·8 kg/d (restricted); 2·5 kg/d (control) and 3·5 kg/d (high) until day 90 of gestation. During gestation restricted gilts had higher levels of cortisol than high and control fed animals. Piglets born to fat gilts had higher average daily gain during the lactation period and higher weaning weights at day 28 than piglets born to thin gilts. Gilts on a high feed level had heavier piglets than those provided with restricted and control allocations. Fat gilts had less saturated fat in their milk at day 21 of lactation and higher unsaturated fat levels. No differences were found in the n-6:n-3 PUFA ratio in the milk between thin and fat gilts. In conclusion, maternal body condition influenced the daily weight gain of offspring up to weaning (day 28) and milk fat composition. Furthermore, maternal feed level during gestation alters maternal cortisol levels and milk fat composition.