We have previously shown that in pregnancy fasting gallbladder volume is increased and emptying after a small volume liquid meal is incomplete. In this study we measured gallbladder volume throughout day and night in healthy women ingesting regular meals. Pregnant women, postpartum women, contraceptive-steroid users, and controls in both phases of the ovulatory cycle were studied. After an overnight fast gallbladder volume was measured by realtime ultrasonography in the fasting state and every 5-10 min for 90 min after breakfast. Residual volume was the lowest volume achieved and the rate constant of gallbladder emptying was calculated from the ln/linear regression of gallbladder volume vs. time. Gallbladder volume was also measured hourly from 11 AM to midnight while subjects ate regular, standard meals, allowing the determination of an average hourly volume. There was no effect of phase of the ovulatory cycle on any measure of gallbladder function. Fasting, residual, and average hourly volume were increased in all trimesters of pregnancy, but tended to return to normal in the postpartum period. Women taking contraceptive steroids had an increased fasting volume. Two distinct rates of emptying after breakfast, an early and a late one, were identified. The early rate was the same in all groups. Pregnant women had a slower late rate of emptying, but women taking contraceptive steroids had emptying rates similar to controls. Retention of bile in the gallbladder may be one reason for the increased risk of cholesterol cholelithiasis in pregnant women and in those taking contraceptive steroids.