Results obtained from the end of the 1950s suggested that ionizing radiation could induce foetal malformations in some mouse strains when administered during early pre-implantation stages. Starting in 1989, data obtained in Germany also showed that radiation exposure during that period could lead to a genomic instability in the surviving foetuses. Furthermore, the same group reported that both malformations and genomic instability could be transmitted to the next generation foetuses after exposure of zygotes to relatively high doses of radiation. We investigated this in more detail during recent years, using mice with varying genetic backgrounds including mice heterozygous for mutations involved in important cellular processes like DNA repair, cell cycle regulation or apoptosis. The main parameters which were investigated included morphological development, genomic instability and gene expression in the irradiated embryos or their own progeny. The aim of this review is to critically reassess the results obtained in that field in the different laboratories and to try to draw general conclusions on the risks of developmental defects and genomic instability from an exposure of early embryos to moderate doses of ionizing radiation.