Sow environment during gestation can generate maternal stress which could alter foetal development. The effects of two group-housing systems for gestating sows on piglet morphological and physiological traits at birth were investigated. During gestation, sows were reared in a conventional system on a slatted floor (C, 18 sows), demonstrated as being stressful for sows or in an enriched system in larger pens and on deep straw bedding (E, 19 sows). On gestation day 105, sows were transferred into identical individual farrowing crates on a slatted floor. Farrowing was supervised to allow sampling from piglets at birth. In each litter, one male piglet of average birth weight was euthanized immediately after birth to study organ development and tissue traits. Blood samples were collected from 6 or 7 piglets per litter at birth and 2 piglets per litter at 4 days of lactation (DL4). At birth, mean piglet BW did not differ between groups (P > 0.10); however, the percentage of light (<1.2 kg) and heavy (⩾2 kg) piglets was greater and lower, respectively, in C than in E litters (P < 0.01). Plasma concentrations of cortisol, IGF-I, T4, T3, lactate, NEFA, fructose and albumin did not differ (P > 0.10) between C and E piglets, but the insulin to glucose ratio was greater (P = 0.02) in C than in E piglets. Compared with E piglets, C piglets had a lighter gut at birth (P = 0.01) and their glycogen content in longissimus muscle was lower (P < 0.01). In this muscle, messenger RNA levels of PAX7, a marker of satellite cells and of PPARGC1A, a transcriptional coactivator involved in mitochondriogenesis and mitochondrial energy metabolism, were greater (P < 0.05), whereas the expression level of PRDX6, a gene playing a role in antioxidant pathway, was lower (P = 0.03) in C than in E piglets. Other studied genes involved in myogenesis did not differ between C and E piglets. No system effect was observed on target genes in liver and subcutaneous adipose tissue. On DL4, C piglets exhibited a lower plasma antioxidant capacity than E piglets (P = 0.002). In conclusion, exposure of sows to a stressful environment during gestation had mild negative effects on the maturity of piglets at birth.