In mammals, milk provision is crucial to offspring survival and growth from birth to weaning. Milk deficiency early in life may cause death or changes in the progeny metabolism that later may lead to obesity and metabolic disorders. This study investigates milk ejection (ME) the first day after birth (D1) in F2 females from the intercross of LG/J and SM/J inbred mice strains. The absence of milk in F3 pups' stomach at D1 is directly associated with their survival (p < 0.001) and growth pattern (p < 0.001) in the early stages of life. Furthermore, late growth pattern is also affected by this lack of nutrients at D1 because pups that survive this absence, mostly males, are heavier at weaning (p < 0.001) which, after necropsy, is shown to be due to significant higher total fat deposition (p < 0.01). We performed QTL analysis for ME at D1 in these F2 females. Maternal performance of ME revealed a complex genetic architecture which even though it contains only a single QTL (accounting for 8 % of the variation in ME), it is totally context-dependent on the genetic background. We discovered many regions involved in epistatic interactions that together with the single QTL explain 19 % of the genetic variation for this trait. Milk ejection is an important component of maternal care, and understanding the mechanisms modulating its variation, along with other maternal features, may help to disentangle the complexity that is the mother/offspring relationship. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.