The highly selective, enzyme-activated, irreversible inhibitor of L-ornithine decarboxylase, DL-alpha-difluoromethylornithine, suppresses the increase in uterine L-ornithine decarboxylase activity associated with early embryogenesis in the mouse and arrests embryonic development at that stage. Contragestational effects were confirmed in the rat and rabbit. An increase in L-ornithine decarboxylase activity that leads to a rapid increase in putrescine concentration appears to be essential during a critical period after implantation for continued mammalian embryonal growth.