Foetal development may permanently affect muscle function. Indian newborns have a low mean birthweight, predominantly due to low lean tissue and muscle mass. We aimed to examine the relationship of birthweight, and arm muscle area (AMA) at birth and post-natal growth to handgrip strength in Indian children. Grip strength was measured in 574 children aged 9 years, who had detailed anthropometry at birth and every 6-12 months post-natally. Mean (standard deviation (s.d.)) birthweight was 2863 (446) g. At 9 years, the children were short (mean height s.d. -0.6) and light (mean weight s.d. -1.1) compared with the World Health Organization growth reference. Mean (s.d.) grip strength was 12.7 (2.2) kg (boys) and 11.0 (2.0) kg (girls). Weight, length and AMA at birth, but not skinfold measurements at birth, were positively related to 9-year grip strength (β = 0.40 kg/s.d. increase in birthweight, P < 0.001; and β = 0.41 kg/s.d. increase in AMA, P < 0.001). Grip strength was positively related to 9-year height, body mass index and AMA and to gains in these measurements from birth to 2 years, 2-5 years and 5-9 years (P < 0.001 for all). The associations between birth size and grip strength were attenuated but remained statistically significant for AMA after adjusting for 9-year size. We conclude that larger overall size and muscle mass at birth are associated with greater muscle strength in childhood, and that this is mediated mainly through greater post-natal size. Poorer muscle development in utero is associated with reduced childhood muscle strength.