Changes in maternal diet at different stages of reproduction can have pronounced influences on the health and well-being of the resulting offspring, especially following exposure to an obesogenic environment. The mechanisms mediating adaptations in development of the embryo, placenta, fetus and newborn include changes in the maternal metabolic environment. These changes include reductions in a range of maternal counter-regulatory hormones such as cortisol, leptin and insulin. In the sheep, for example, targeted maternal nutrient restriction coincident with the period of maximal placental growth has pronounced effects on the development of the kidney and adipose tissue. As a consequence, the response of these tissues varies greatly following adolescent-onset obesity and ultimately results in these offspring exhibiting all the symptoms of the metabolic syndrome earlier in young adult life. Leptin administration to the offspring after birth can have some long-term differential effects, although much higher amounts are required to cause a response in small compared with large animal models. At the same time, the responsiveness of the offspring is gender dependent, which may relate to the differences in leptin sensitivity around the time of birth. Increasing maternal food intake during pregnancy, either globally or of individual nutrients, has little positive impact on birth weight but does impact on liver development. The challenge now is to establish which components of the maternal diet can be sustainably modified in order to optimise the maternal endocrine environment through pregnancy, thus ensuring feto–placental growth is appropriate in relation to an individual's gender and body composition.