Energy needs are increased during pregnancy and lactation. These increased energy needs may be met through partitioning of nutrients for energy utilization which is under hormonal control. The objective of the present studies was to determine if changes in plasma leptin occurred during pregnancy and lactation and if the changes were related to prolactin. Plasma leptin and prolactin were measured longitudinally in 9 women through pregnancy and lactation. In a second study, leptin and prolactin were measured 4 days and 28 days postpartum in 21 lactating women. Mean plasma leptin during the three trimesters of pregnancy was significantly higher (29.3+/-2.8 ng/ml) when compared to mean leptin during the three time periods of lactation (19.3+/-3.2 ng/ml) and control groups (9.8+/-1.4 ng/ml). Plasma leptin was elevated early in pregnancy and remained elevated throughout pregnancy. In the second study, the mean plasma leptin in the lactating women was significantly higher 4 days postpartum (17.3+/-3.7 ng/ml) and 28 days postpartum (19.2+/-3.9 ng/ml) when compared to controls (11.6+/-1.2 ng/ml). Prolactin in the control subjects (24+/-4 ng/ml) was significantly lower than in the pregnant (202+/-16 ng/ml) and lactating (108+/-26 ng/ml) groups. Similar observations were made in the second study (controls 20+/-2 ng/ml; lactation 28 days 159+/-21 ng/ml). Leptin during lactation was lower than in pregnancy but higher than control subjects. Regression analysis suggested that BMI and prolactin can be used as predictors of leptin in pregnancy and lactation. The increase in leptin and prolactin early in pregnancy suggests an association between the two hormones. Results of the present studies and research done by other investigators presents a strong role for leptin during pregnancy and lactation. Leptin is regulated by factors other than adiposity especially in reproductive women leading to our hypothesis that there are leptin and prolactin mediated effects on substrates used for energy utilization during pregnancy and lactation.