The effects of maternal malnutrition on fetal lung growth and surface forces were studied in albino rats. Pregnant albino rats were subjected to one of the following diets: rat chow ad lib. (controls), partial food deprivation (intake one-half that of the controls), complete food deprivation for 4 days (on gestation day 3-7, 9-13, or 17-21), low protein (8%), and fat free. The fetal lungs were studied on the 21st day of gestation (delivered by cesarean section) or at birth (gestation day 22). Fetuses and neonates after maternal food deprivation (FD) on the 17-21 day of pregnancy, and after a low-protein (LP) diet during pregnancy, had significantly smaller body weight and lung wet or dry weight/body weight ratio (hypocellular lungs). The minimum surface tension (gamma min) of fetal lung extracts was significantly increased with FD and LP. This was associated with a reduction of about 35% in lung lecithin content, expressed per lung DNA. The earlier in pregnancy the rat was subjected to 4-day food deprivation the less the effect on the fetus. At birth the gamma min and the lung lecithin content reached control values. This recovery occurred after birth (at age 4-10 h) and prior to first feeding. However, the lungs remained small and hypocellular. The results indicate that the nutritional status of the pregnant rat influences the surface activity and the growth of the fetal lung.