During fetal development, pulmonary vascular resistance (PVR) is high, and, as a result, blood flow through the fetal lungs is low. Although PVR markedly decreases at the time of birth, the factors that regulate pulmonary blood flow (PBF) and PVR before and immediately after birth are not clear. Our aim was to examine the relationship between episodes of fetal breathing movements (FBM) and pulmonary hemodynamics during late gestation to further understand the relationship among lung luminal volume, phasic changes in intrapulmonary pressure, and PVR before birth. In chronically catheterized fetal sheep (120-128 d gestation; n = 5; term approximately 147 d), PBF and PVR were measured during periods of FBM and apnea. Episodes of FBM were divided into periods of accentuated (amplitude of >3.5 mm Hg change in tracheal pressure) and nonaccentuated periods of FBM. During accentuated episodes of FBM, mean PBF was increased to 159.5 +/- 23.4% (p < 0.0025) of the preceding apneic period and was associated with a 19.1 +/- 5.2% reduction in PVR. In addition, during accentuated episodes of FBM, the retrograde flow of blood through the left pulmonary artery was reduced to 90.1 +/- 1.0% of the preceding apneic period, which most likely contributed to the increase in mean PBF at this time. Although a change in PBF and PVR could not be detected during nonaccentuated FBM, compared with the preceding apneic period, PBF was linearly and positively correlated with the amplitude (change in pressure) of FBM. We conclude that PVR is decreased and PBF is increased during accentuated episodes of FBM, possibly as a result of phasic reductions in intrapulmonary pressures.