The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of supplementation of recombinant leukaemia inhibitory factor (LIF) in culture media on blastocyst development, total cell number and blastocyst hatching rates and the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction analysis of preimplantation buffalo embryos to determine whether they contain the LIF-encoding mRNA and its beta receptor (LIFRβ) genes in different stages of preimplantation buffalo embryos. Cumulus–oocyte complexes retrieved from slaughterhouse buffalo ovaries were matured in vitro and fertilized using frozen buffalo semen. After 18 h of co-incubation with sperm, the presumptive zygotes were cultured in modified synthetic oviductal fluid without (control) or with rhLIF (100 ng/ml). There was no significant difference in the overall cleavage rate up to morula stage however the development of blastocysts, hatching rate and total cell numbers were significantly higher in the LIF-treated group than control. Transcripts for LIFRβ were detected from immature, in vitro-matured oocytes and in the embryos up to blastocyst stage, while transcripts for the LIF were detected from 8–16-cell stage up to blastocyst, which indicated that embryo-derived LIF can act in an autocrine manner on differentiation process and blastocyst formation. This study indicated that the addition of LIF to the embryo culture medium improved development of blastocysts, functional (hatching) and morphological (number of cells) quality of the blastocysts produced in vitro. The stage-specific expression pattern of LIF and LIFRβ mRNA transcripts in buffalo embryos indicated that LIF might play an important role in the preimplantation development and subsequent implantation of buffalo embryos.