The aims of the present study were (a) to maintain the structure and function of the small intestine of the piglet after weaning, and (b) to compare the capacity in vivo of sucking and weaned piglets to digest oral boluses of lactose and sucrose and absorb their monosaccharide products. Piglets were fed on cows' whole milk ad libitum every 2 h for 5 d after weaning. Physiological doses of lactose plus fructose (treatment LAC + FRU) and sucrose plus galactose (treatment SUC + GAL) were administered on day 27 of lactation and on the fifth day after weaning, after which time piglets were killed. Villus height and crypt depth were maintained (P > 0·05) by feeding cows' milk after weaning. The areas under the curves (AUC) for galactose and glucose, adjusted for live weight and plasma volume, increased (P < 0·05) after weaning. Despite the enhancement of gut function after weaning, the galactose index (Gall: AUC for galactose ingested as lactose divided by the AUC for the same dose of galactose ingested as the monosaccharide) and fructose index (FruI: AUC for fructose ingested as sucrose divide by the AUC for the same dose of fructose ingested as the monosaccharide), which are indices of digestive and absorptive efficiency, both decreased after weaning. This apparent anomaly may be reconciled by increased growth, and hence surface area, of the small intestine between weaning and slaughter such that ‘total’ digestion and absorption most probably increased despite apparent decreases in GalI and FrnI. Positive correlations (P < 0.05) between villus height and Gall are consistent with the maximum activity of lactase occurring more apically along the villus. Significant linear relationships (P < 0·05) were recorded between villus height at the proximal jejunum and adjusted AUC for galactose and glucose following treatment LAC + FRU, and between villus height at the proximal jejunum and adjusted glucose AUC following treatment SUC + GAL. These relationships suggest that maximum digestion and absorption occurs at increasing distances along the crypt:villus axis in the weaned pig.