We compared metabolic and cardiovascular responses to aerobic exercise with the direct Fick technique in women during and after pregnancy. Seven subjects were studied at 37 weeks' gestation and again 12 weeks postpartum. All were tested at rest and during four sequential exercise bouts consisting of 5 minutes at each of two cycle (50 and 75 W) and two treadmill (67 m x min-1 at 2.5 and 12% grade) protocols. Oxygen consumption (VO2) and heart rate were measured during the fifth minute of exercise. Arterial and mixed venous oxygen contents, obtained from catheters placed in the radial and pulmonary arteries, respectively, were used to calculate arterial-venous oxygen difference. Cardiac output and stroke volume were calculated from the Fick equation. Responses of VO2, cardiac output, and stroke volume were greater when exercise was performed at 37 weeks' gestation as compared with postpartum. In contrast, heart rate response (during cycling) and arterial-venous oxygen difference (during treadmill walking) were less when exercise was performed during pregnancy. Our results indicate that there is no compromise in maternal cardiac output during either cycle or treadmill exercise performed late in pregnancy as compared with postpartum conditions.