During the first rapid divisions of early development in many species, the DNA:cytoplasm ratio increases until the midblastula transition (MBT) when transcription resumes and cell cycles lengthen. S phase is very rapid in early embryos, about 20-30 times faster than in differentiated cells. Using a combination of DNA fiber studies and a Xenopus laevis embryonic in vitro replication system, we show that S phase slows down shortly after the MBT owing to a genome wide decrease of replication eye density. Increasing the dNTP pool did not accelerate S phase or increase replication eye density implying that dNTPs are not rate limiting for DNA replication at the Xenopus MBT. Increasing the ratio of DNA:cytoplasm in egg extracts faithfully recapitulates changes in the spatial replication program in embryos, supporting the hypothesis that titration of soluble limiting factors could explain the observed changes in the DNA replication program at the MBT in Xenopus laevis.