The aim of the study was to investigate the influence of different energy levels during a 4-week lactation on the regulation of the metabolic hormones somatotropin (GH), prolactin, insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). A total of 21 crossbred sows (German Landrace × Duroc) were cannulated for daily blood collection from 3 weeks before parturition until 2 weeks after weaning and for weekly window sampling (every 20 min for 10 h). Nineteen sows were given 2·8 kg food during late gestation, 5·0 kg food during lactation and 2·8 kg food per day after weaning and two sows were given food at a restricted level (3·0 kg) during lactation. In the 19 sows, the different energy balance was induced by allocation of different numbers of sucking piglets to the respective sows. One group of sows suckled seven piglets and served as a control (C; no. = 7) and another group suckled 10 to 12 piglets and was energy deficient (D). After the study, the sows of the deficient group were, based on their litter weight gain from parturition until weaning, divided into low (D-L; no. = 6) or high (D-H; no. = 6) litter weight gain. The D-H sows lost more body weight during lactation than C and had lower glucose and higher nonesterified fatty acids levels before morning feeding. GH and prolactin increased around parturition and their secretory profiles during lactation were altered by the frequent sucking stimulus, whereby the access of the piglets to their dams was not controlled. During lactation, GH and prolactin were highest in D-H sows. The results suggest a possible role of not only GH but also of prolactin in nutrient partitioning to the mammary gland just before the start of lactation and for minimizing the adverse effects of a negative energy balance. Furthermore, insulin and IGF-1 increased around parturition in all sows. Insulin was higher before and after feeding and the highest levels were found in C and D-L sows. The regulation patterns of insulin and IGF-1 indicate that the lactating sow is able to mobilize enough energy from body reserves to prevent metabolic disorders, even during a period with deficient energy supply. This is contrary to the regulation in the dairy cow, where the negative energy balance is coupled with a severe glucose deficit during phases of high milk yield, which causes decreased levels of insulin and IGF-1. In the sow, the glucose intake with the food meets the glucose requirement for metabolic pathways also during a deficient lactational energy intake. Therefore, in sows IGF-1 can be stimulated by increased GH levels via the GH receptor in the liver during a state of nutritional energy deficiency and the fact that sows can compensate a deficient metabolic state much better than cows is also reflected in the respective endocrinology.