Pregnant rats were implanted with osmotic minipumps containing either methadone hydrochloride (9 mg/kg/day) or sterile water. Their offspring were cross-fostered so that the following prenatal/postnatal exposure groups were obtained: water/water, methadone/water, water/methadone and methadone/methadone. Methadone slightly reduced litter size, particularly the number of male offspring, and reduced litter birth weight. The induction or maintenance of physical dependence in the postnatal methadone exposure groups was confirmed by an experiment in which PD19 pups were challenged with naloxone (1 mg/kg, s.c.). Methadone concentrations were assayed in pup brain on postnatal days 4, 10 and 22. Postnatal exposure to methadone via maternal milk produced measurable levels of methadone which decreased with age. Neuromuscular and physical development were assessed. Exposure to methadone accelerated acquisition of the righting reflex, but tended to delay the acquisition of the negative geotaxic response. Postnatal exposure to methadone was associated with decreased somatic growth as measured through postnatal day 21. The older pups (postnatal day 21) exposed to methadone exhibited variations in activity levels: pups exposed to methadone both prenatally and postnatally exhibited the least amount of spontaneous locomotor activity and pups exposed only postnatally exhibited the most activity. Therefore, it is possible to induce and/or maintain physical dependence via lactation in rat pups fostered to methadone-treated dams. Perinatal exposure to methadone by this route produces several subtle disruptions of pup development in the absence of gross maternal or fetal toxicity.