There are substantial alterations in fuel homeostasis immediately after birth. Leptin is a putative regulator of energy metabolism. Consequently, the aim of this study was to examine whether there are changes in circulating leptin concentrations during the early postnatal period. Umbilical cord mixed blood samples were taken at delivery, and a venous blood sample was obtained at 3 d of age from 38 healthy newborn infants (20 male, 18 female; gestational age 36.3 to 41.9 wk) for analysis of leptin concentration with radioimmunoassay. Cord plasma leptin concentration was 9.7+/-5.2 microg/L (mean+/-SD), with no gender difference between male (8.6+/-4.6 microg/L) and female (10.9+/-5.6 microg/L) infants. In male newborns, cord plasma leptin concentration correlated with arm circumference (r = 0.48, p < 0.05), and in female newborns with body mass index (r = 0.62, p < 0.01), thickness of the s.c. fat (r = 0.54, p < 0.05), and arm circumference (r = 0.72, p < 0.01). By the third postnatal day, plasma leptin decreased similarly in male (to 1.8+/-0.4 microg/L, p < 0.001) and female (to 2.3+/-0.8 microg/L, p < 0.001) infants, when there was a significant gender difference in leptin levels (p = 0.01). At 3 d of age, plasma leptin correlated with weight (r = 0.49, p < 0.05) and arm circumference (r = 0.49, p < 0.05) in female but not in male newborns. In conclusion, 1) circulating leptin already correlates with adiposity at birth in female but not in male newborn infants and 2) leptin decreases markedly in both genders by the third postnatal day, and the gender difference with higher leptin levels in females develops by that time. Thus, the postnatal decrease in plasma leptin concentration may be a physiologically feasible adaptation to profound alterations in fuel homeostasis during the first days of extrauterine life.