In a prospective study of 62 patients undergoing cesarean section before the onset of labor a fetal biophysical profile assessment was performed within 3 hours before the cesarean section. The presence or absence of the individual fetal biophysical activities (fetal heart rate reactivity, fetal breathing movements, fetal body movements, and fetal tone) were correlated with umbilical cord blood gas and acid-base measurements (artery and vein). Fetuses with nonreactive nonstress test results or the absence of breathing had significantly lower cord artery pH, PO2 bicarbonate, and base excess measurements but not a significantly different PCO2 level as compared with fetuses that had these activities present. Fetuses with the absence of movements or tone had lower pH, PO2 bicarbonate, and base excess levels and higher PCO2 levels as compared with fetuses with the presence of movements or tone, respectively. These blood gas and acid-base differences were observed in both umbilical cord artery and vein. Subsequent analysis of the blood gas and acid-base measurements of the fetuses with compromised biophysical activities revealed that there are different levels of acidemia, hypoxemia, and hypercapnia at which the individual biophysical activities are compromised. These data suggest that the first manifestations of fetal hypoxemia and acidemia are nonreactive nonstress test results and loss of fetal breathing; in advanced acidemia, hypoxemia, and hypercapnia fetal movements and fetal tone are compromised.