We determined the effects of sustained and cyclical prenatal mechanical strain on the hypoplastic lung of the ovine model of congenital diaphragmatic hernia. Over a period of 4 weeks in late gestation, repeated cyclical tracheal occlusion for 23 hours with 1-hour release stimulated minimal growth, but promoted maturation with the development of a saccular lung. In contrast, a cycle consisting of 47 hours with 1-hour release induced optimal lung growth and morphologic maturation of the hypoplastic lung parenchyma. Sustained occlusion resulted in exaggerated lung growth, exceeding that of unaffected controls, and abnormal alveolar development. The extent of induction of lung growth by mechanical strain was inversely proportional to the number of alveolar type II cells remaining in the lung epithelium. These studies show that, although mechanical strain is capable of inducing lung growth and differentiation, cyclical strain is a prerequisite for normal development and that mechanically induced growth occurs at the expense of the alveolar type II cell. We conclude that cyclical strain may allow optimal alveolar development while maintaining a population of alveolar type II cells and may thus facilitate an improvement in postnatal lung function in infants with congenital diaphragmatic hernia.