Fetal growth is a complex process depending on the genetics of the fetus, the availability of nutrients and oxygen to the fetus, maternal nutrition and various growth factors and hormones of maternal, fetal and placental origin. Hormones play a central role in regulating fetal growth and development. They act as maturational and nutritional signals in utero and control tissue development and differentiation according to the prevailing environmental conditions in the fetus. The insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system, and IGF-I and IGF-II in particular, plays a critical role in fetal and placental growth throughout gestation. Disruption of the IGF1, IGF2 or IGF1R gene retards fetal growth, whereas disruption of IGF2R or overexpression of IGF2 enhances fetal growth. IGF-I stimulates fetal growth when nutrients are available, thereby ensuring that fetal growth is appropriate for the nutrient supply. The production of IGF-I is particularly sensitive to undernutrition. IGF-II plays a key role in placental growth and nutrient transfer. Several key hormone genes involved in embryonic and fetal growth are imprinted. Disruption of this imprinting causes disorders involving growth defects, such as Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which is associated with fetal overgrowth, or Silver-Russell syndrome, which is associated with intrauterine growth retardation. Optimal fetal growth is essential for perinatal survival and has long-term consequences extending into adulthood. Given the high incidence of intrauterine growth retardation and the high risk of metabolic and cardiovascular complications in later life, further clinical and basic research is needed to develop accurate early diagnosis of aberrant fetal growth and novel therapeutic strategies.