The low feed intake and stress associated with abrupt weaning in conventional pig farming often result in poor post-weaning performance, which is related to impaired intestinal function. We investigated effects of housing conditions before weaning on performance around weaning of relatively light and heavy piglets. Before weaning, piglets were housed either with five sows and their litters in a multi-suckling (MS) system or in pens with individually housed sows in farrowing crates (FC). After weaning at 4 weeks of age (day 0), 16 groups of four piglets (two light and two heavy litter-mates) were housed under equal conditions in enriched pens. Mannitol (day −5 and day 5) and galactose (day 5) were orally administered as markers for gastrointestinal carbohydrate absorption, and after 20 min a blood sample was taken (sugar absorption test). In addition, BW, feed intake and faecal consistency as an indicator for diarrhoea, were assessed frequently during 2 weeks post-weaning. Pre-weaning housing, weight class and their interaction did not affect post-weaning faecal consistency scores. Weight gain over 2 weeks did not differ between pre-weaning housing treatments, but MS piglets gained more (0.67±0.12 kg) than FC piglets (0.39±0.16 kg) between days 2 and 5 post-weaning, P=0.02), particularly in the ‘heavy’ weight class (interaction, P=0.04), whereas feed intake was similar for both treatments. This indicates a better utilisation of the ingested feed of the MS piglets compared with the FC piglets in the early post-weaning period. Pre-weaning mannitol concentrations were unaffected by pre-weaning housing, weight class and their interaction. On day 5 post-weaning, however, MS piglets had a lower plasma concentration of mannitol (320 v. 592 nmol/ml, SEM=132, P=0.04) and galactose (91 v. 157 nmol/ml, SEM=20, P=0.04) than FC piglets, regardless of weight class. In conclusion, MS and FC piglets differed in aspects of post-weaning gastrointestinal carbohydrate absorption and in weight gain between days 2 and 5 after weaning, but pre-weaning housing did not affect feed intake, weight gain and measures of faecal consistency over the first 2 weeks after weaning.