Blood samples were collected in peripheral venous blood of seven lactating sows, when their piglets were suckling. In four of the experiments samples were also taken when the sows were fed a meal. Gastrin, insulin, somatostatin and VIP levels were measured by radioimmunoassay. Insulin levels increased by approximately 100% for about 10 min in response to suckling, in some experiments even before the suckling occurred, i.e. when the sows saw, heard and smelled their piglets. In four of the sows suckling caused a biphasic twofold increase in gastrin levels - one immediate peak which lasted for a few min and a second peak of longer duration (about 30-60 min), whereas gastrin levels remained unchanged in three animals. Somatostatin levels usually reflected gastrin levels in a reciprocal way. Thus, a biphasic decrease of somatostatin levels occurred in the high gastrin responders. In contrast, somatostatin levels increased in the experiments, in which gastrin levels did not change. Immediate and short-lasting (a few minutes long) increases of VIP levels were also induced by suckling. Large litters and long suckling periods appeared to be related to greater changes of the levels of all the peptides measured. Feeding influenced insulin, gastrin and somatostatin levels in the same way as did suckling from both a qualitative and a quantitative point of view. In contrast, VIP levels were not increased by feeding. The possible functional effects of the suckling-induced release of gastrointestinal hormones and possible mechanisms of their release are discussed.