Maternal smoking during pregnancy has been associated with overweight and obesity in childhood and is strongly correlated with children's tobacco smoke exposure before and after pregnancy. We investigated the independent association of tobacco smoke exposure at various pre- and postnatal periods and overweight at age 6. A total of 1,954 children attending the 2001-2002 school entrance health examination in the city of Aachen, Germany, were included into this study. Height and weight were measured, BMI was calculated. Tobacco smoke exposure at various periods, other lifestyle and sociodemographic factors were ascertained by questionnaire. Multiple logistic regression models were used to assess the association between tobacco smoke exposure and overweight. Prevalence of overweight was 8.9%. Significant positive associations were found with maternal smoking before and during pregnancy and during the first and sixth year of life. When all smoking periods were included into one logistic model simultaneously, secondhand smoke exposure after birth remained positively associated with overweight at age 6 at either one of the two time periods (first year only: odds ratio (OR) (95% confidence interval (CI)): 2.94 (1.30-6.67), sixth year only: 2.57 (1.64-4.04), respectively) or at both (4.43 (2.24-8.76)). Exposure to tobacco smoke during the first years of life appears to be a key risk factor for development of childhood overweight.