A growing number of studies are suggesting that females can improve the viability of their embryos by mating with multiple males. However, the reason why females should have low rates of embryo viability is puzzling. Here we conduct a quantitative genetic study of maternal effects on embryo viability in the field cricket Teleogryllus oceanicus. After controlling for female body size, we find significant additive genetic variance for ovary weight, a measure of fecundity, and egg hatching success, a measure of embryo viability. Moreover, we show a genetic trade-off between these traits that is predicted from life-history theory. High rates of embryo mortality in this highly fecund species might therefore be explained by selection favouring an optimum balance between fecundity and embryo viability that maximizes maternal fitness. Paternal effects on female fecundity and embryo viability are often seen as benefits driving the evolution of polyandrous behaviour. However, we raise the alternative possibility that paternal effects might shift females from their naturally selected optimum, and present some support for the notion that sexual conflict over a female's optimal fecundity and embryo viability might generate antagonistic coevolution between the sexes.