To define the mechanisms that coordinate early embryonic development and metabolism, we have examined the response of zebrafish embryos to anoxia before the midblastula transition. Our findings reveal that anoxic pre-midblastula transition embryos slow the cell cycle, arrest before the midblastula transition and can recover normally if restored to a normoxic environment. Analyses of respiratory rates reveal that pre-midblastula transition embryos are less reliant on oxidative phosphorylation than older embryos. Interestingly, arrest in anoxia occurs despite inhibition of zygotic transcription, revealing a central role for maternal factors in the response to energy limitation. Consistent with this concept, we demonstrate that the posttranslational energy-sensing AMP-activated protein kinase pathway is activated in anoxia in pre-midblastula transition embryos. Taken together, these findings demonstrate a maternal program capable of coordinating developmental rate and metabolism in the absence of transcription-based pathways or cell cycle checkpoints.