Background: Postnatal piglet survival is important both in economic and animal welfare terms. It is influenced by the piglet’s own direct genetic effects and by maternal genetic effects of the dam, associated with milk production and mothering abilities. These genetic effects might be correlated, affected by other non-genetic factors and unfavourably associated with other reproduction traits such as litter size, which makes the development of optimal breeding strategies a challenge. To identify the optimum selection strategy for piglet survival, a selection experiment was carried out to compare responses in survival and reproduction traits to selection on only direct, only maternal, or both genetic effects of postnatal survival. The data of the experiment were recorded from outdoor reared pigs, with first- and second-generation sires selected based on their estimated breeding values for maternal and direct effects of postnatal survival of indoor reared offspring, respectively, with the opportunity to identify potential genotype-by-environment interaction. Results: A Bayesian multivariate threshold-linear model that was fitted to data on 22,483 piglets resulted in significant (Pr(h2 > 0) = 1.00) estimates of maternal and direct heritabilities between 0.12 and 0.18 for survival traits and between 0.29 and 0.36 for birth weight, respectively. Selection for direct genetic effects resulted in direct and maternal responses in postnatal survival of 1.11% ± 0.17 and − 0.49% ± 0.10, respectively, while selection for maternal genetic effects led to greater direct and maternal responses, of 5.20% ± 0.34 and 1.29% ± 0.20, respectively, in part due to unintentional within-litter selection. Selection for both direct and maternal effects revealed a significant lower direct response (− 1.04% ± 0.12) in comparison to its expected response from single-effect selection, caused by interactions between direct and maternal effects. Conclusions: Selection successfully improved post- and perinatal survival and birth weight, which indicates that they are genetically determined and that genotype-by-environment interactions between outdoor (experimental data) and indoor (selection data) housed pigs were not important for these traits. A substantially increased overall (direct plus maternal) response was obtained using selection for maternal versus direct or both direct and maternal effects, suggesting that the maternal genetic effects are the main limiting factor for improving piglet survival on which selection pressure should be emphasized.