Compared with other domestic species, genetic nucleus selection has gradually increased both prolificacy and productivity of the breeding sow and the post-natal growth performance of commercial progeny. However, increasing variation in litter birth weight and foetal development may be indirect consequences of interactions among multiple genes controlling prolificacy and prenatal development. Phenotypic plasticity in the litter phenotype also results from effects of sow metabolic state on the developing embryo. New genomic tools may provide the opportunity to better balance the selection of genes controlling the component traits affecting the size and quality of litters born, particularly in multiparous sows.