The costs of egg production and incubation may have a crucial effect on avian reproductive decisions, such as clutch size and the timing of reproduction. We carried out a brood–size enlargement experiment on the great tit (Parus major), in which the birds had to lay and incubate extra eggs (full costs), only incubate extra eggs (free eggs) or did not pay any extra cost (free chicks) in obtaining a larger brood. We used female fitness (half the recruits produced plus female survival) as a fitness measure because it is the female which pays the costs of egg production and incubation, and because clutch size is under female control. Female fitness decreased with increasing costs (fitness of free chicks females is higher than that of free eggs females which is higher than that of full costs females). These fitness differences were due to differences in female survival rather than in the number of recruits produced. This is the first time that the costs of egg production and incubation have been estimated using such a complete fitness measure, including, as our measure does, the local survival to the following year of both the female and her offspring. Our results emphasize that reproductive decisions cannot be understood without taking egg production and incubation costs into account.