Breast tissue in newborn infants is considered to be physiologic and mainly related to exposure to maternal hormones in utero or through breast-feeding. However, controversy exists as to whether breast tissue in later infancy is under the influence of endogenous hormones. Children at 2-4 mo of age have a surge of reproductive hormones, including estradiol, which may affect the mammary gland. In a prospective cohort study of 1126 healthy, 3-mo-old infants, breast tissue size and reproductive hormones were measured. We found that palpable breast tissue (diameter >or=3 mm) is a common physiologic condition present in 78.9% of children, significantly more frequent (p < 0.001) and larger (p < 0.001) in girls than in boys. Girls had significantly higher median estradiol levels than boys (30.0 versus 21.0 pmol/L, p < 0.001). In a multiple regression model including breast tissue size given as quartiles as the dependent variable and weight for gestational age, subscapular skinfold, weight at 3 mo of age and serum estradiol as independent variables, a gender difference was shown. In girls, the estradiol level was positively (p < 0.03) correlated to breast quartile. In boys, no correlations were found. Whether the stimulation of the mammary gland in infancy represents a developmental window that is of biologic significance for breast development and pathology in adulthood remains to be defined.