We examined the factors influencing maternal food intake and pup growth in Norway rats. Mother rats allowed pups in naturally large litters to grow at a slower rate than pups in naturally small litters. Pups reared by dams in a warm ambience (26 degrees C) gained weight more slowly than dams at 22 degrees C, and maternal food intake but not weight gain was depressed in the high ambient temperature. Pup growth at 18 degrees C was unimpaired, with those dams eating no more and gaining no less weight than dams at 22 degrees C. Nest material, however, was found to be essential for the successful rearing of young at cooler ambient temperatures. While restriction of food during gestation resulted in a marginally lower weight gain for the pups during the first 2 weeks postpartum, the dams appeared not to mobilize corporal stores or increase their food intake during lactation. Heavy body weight mothers did not eat any more, nor did they gain any less weight nor rear larger pups than light body weight dams. Rat mothers increased their consumption of a diet diluted with non-nutritive fiber to equal the nutritive intake their controls, with their pups not differing in their growth rate. Pups reared by dams eating a high quality diet grew faster than pups with dams on the control diet. Food intake by mother rats is required during lactation relative to the amount of milk that is delivered to the pups, rather than to an absolute amount of food. Lactating females with a concurrent pregnancy neither increase their food intake nor appear to mobilize their corporal stores to deal with the added energetic drain of pregnancy. Indeed, their young grew somewhat more quickly than pups nursed by dams that were simply lactating. Taken as a whole, these results suggest that Norway rat dams apparently do not monitor and defend a maximal pup growth rate. Rather, rat dams seem to continue to defend their own homeostasis, and by doing so, allow the young to grow and survive under a wide variety of circumstances.