Osmoregulation is altered in human gestation, body tonicity declining to a nadir early in pregnancy after which a new steady-state plasma osmolality is maintained until term. Development of precise, sensitive, and specific radioimmunoassays for arginine vasopressin (AVP), which permit clearer definitions of functional properties of the osmoregulatory system, have led to a formulation of how these changes occur (both in women as well as in a gravid rat model). The osmotic thresholds for thirst and antidiuretic hormone release each decrease approximately 10 mosmol/kg during the initial weeks of human gestation. Lowering the threshold to drink stimulates increased water intake and dilution of body fluids. Because AVP release is not suppressed at the usual levels of tonicity, it still circulates and water is retained. Osmolality declines until it decreases below the osmotic thirst threshold (situated several mosmol/kg above that for hormone secretion), and a new steady state, with little change in water turnover, is established. The metabolic clearance rate of AVP is also altered, increasing three- to fourfold between gestational week 10 and midtrimester, paralleling the appearance and rapid rise in circulating cystine-aminopeptidase (vasopressinase), an observation that may explain several disorders of water handling that complicate human pregnancy. Finally, mechanisms responsible for the altered osmoregulation are obscure but chorionic gonadotropin may be involved in the changes during human gestation.