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During the prenatal, neonatal and post-weaning periods, the mammalian gastrointestinal tract undergoes various morphological and physiological changes alongside with an expansion of the immune system and microbial ecosystem. This review focuses on the time period before weaning and summarizes the current knowledge regarding i) structural and functional aspects ii) the development of the immune system, and iii) the establishment of the gut ecosystem of the porcine intestine. Structural and functional maturation of the gastrointestinal tract gradually progress with age. In the neonatal period colostrum induces gut closure, leads to an increase in intestinal weight, absorptive area and brush border enzyme activities. During the first weeks of life, an increased secretion of stomach and pancreatic enzymes and an increased uptake of monosaccharides and amino acids are observed. The development in digestive function coincides with development in both the adaptive and innate immune system. This secures a balanced immune response to the ingested milk-derived macromolecules, and colonizing bacteria. Husbandry and dietary interventions in early life appear to affect the development of multiple components of the mucosal immune system. Furthermore, the composition of the intestinal microbial communities seems to be affected by the early postnatal environment, which might also contribute to gut maturation, metabolic and immune development. Understanding the interplay between morphological, functional and immunological maturation, as influenced by early microbial colonization and ingestion of dietary factors, is of utmost importance to identify management and feeding strategies to optimize intestinal health. We discuss some possible implications related to intrauterine growth restriction, and preterm delivery as these both dramatically increase the risk of mortality and morbidity. In addition, some nutritional interventions during the perinatal period in both sows and piglets will be discussed in the light of possible health consequences early in life and later on.