Circulating growth hormone (GH) concentrations increase in pregnancy and administration of GH during early-mid pregnancy increases fetal growth in well-fed pigs. To determine whether increased maternal GH could promote fetal growth when feed availability is restricted, fifteen cross-bred primiparous sows (gilts) were fed at approximately 30% of ad libitum intake, from mating onwards and were injected daily i.m. with recombinant porcine GH (pGH) at doses of 0, 13.4+/-0.3 and 25.6+/-0.5 microg/kg live weight from day 25 to day 51 of pregnancy (term approximately 115 days). Treatment with pGH increased maternal backfat loss between day 25 and day 51 of pregnancy, and increased maternal plasma IGF-I concentrations measured at day 51 of pregnancy. Fetal body weight, length and skull width at day 51 of pregnancy were increased by maternal treatment with pGH. Fetal plasma glucose concentrations were increased and maternal/fetal plasma glucose concentration gradients were decreased by maternal pGH treatment at 13.4, but not 25.6 microg/kg.day. Fetal plasma concentrations of urea were decreased by both levels of pGH treatment. Overall, fetal weight was negatively correlated with fetal plasma concentrations of urea, positively correlated with maternal plasma alpha-amino nitrogen concentrations and unrelated to glucose concentrations in either maternal or fetal plasma. This suggests that the availability of amino acids, not glucose, limits fetal growth in the first half of pregnancy in underfed gilts, and that maternal GH treatment may improve amino acid delivery to the fetus.