This study tested whether elevated maternal beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-OHB) levels contribute to polycythaemia in infants of diabetic mothers. Pregnant diabetic women (n = 27) and non-diabetic controls (n = 20) and their singleton infants were included. Maternal glycosylated haemoglobin and beta-OHB levels were studied at 34 - 36 weeks' gestation; levels were significantly higher in mothers with diabetes than in controls. Birth weights and cord blood levels of insulin and fetal haemoglobin were significantly higher in infants from diabetic mothers compared with control infants, as were haematocrit levels in venous blood samples taken from each infant at 4 h following delivery. Cord blood erythropoietin levels were similar in both groups. There was a positive strong correlation between maternal beta-OHB levels and polycythaemia in newborn infants, indicating that beta-OHB could activate erythropoiesis independently from intrauterine hyperinsulinaemia and/or erythropoietin levels, and may be important in the pathogenesis of polycythaemia in infants born to diabetic mothers.