Oxygen consumption of gestating Aspic vipers, Vipera aspis (L.), was strongly dependent on body temperature and mass. Temperature‐controlled, mass‐independent oxygen consumption did not differ between pregnant and nonpregnant females. Maternal metabolism was not influenced during early gestation by the number of embryos carried but was weakly influenced during late gestation. These results differ from previous investigations that show an increase in mass‐independent oxygen consumption in reproductive females relative to nonreproductive females and a positive relationship between metabolism and litter size. These data also conflict with published field data on V. aspis that show a strong metabolic cost associated with reproduction. We propose that, under controlled conditions (i.e., females exposed to precise ambient temperatures), following the mobilisation of resources to create follicles (i.e., vitellogenesis), early gestation per se may not be an energetically expensive period in reproduction. However, under natural conditions, the metabolic rate of reproductive females is strongly increased by a shift in thermal ecology (higher body temperature and longer basking periods), enabling pregnant females to accelerate the process of gestation. Combining both laboratory and field investigation in a viviparous snake, we suggest that reproduction entails discrete changes in the thermal ecology of females to provide optimal temperatures to the embryos, whatever their number. This results in the counterintuitive notion that metabolism may well be largely independent of fecundity during gestation, at least in an ectothermic reptile.