Studies across multiple organisms reveal considerable phenotypic variation in reproductive tactics. In some species, this variation is associated with maternal effects in which variation in maternal investment results in stable individual differences in reproductive function. Recent studies with the rat suggest that maternal effects can alter the function of neuroendocrine systems associated with female sexual behaviour as well as maternal behaviour. These maternal effects appear to be mediated by epigenetic modifications at the promoter for oestrogen receptor alpha (ERα) and subsequent effects on gene expression. The tissue-specific nature of such effects may underlie the co-ordinated variation in multiple forms of reproductive function, resulting in distinct reproductive strategies.