Sheep fetuses, near term, were studied to test the influence of a tocolytic beta agonist, terbutaline, on fetal responses to hypoxia. After fetal exteriorization the drug was administered intravenously to the mother in three different doses: The max group comprised 11 ewes receiving 67-134 micrograms min-1. Seven ewes were given 30 micrograms min-1 and eight ewes were infused with 10 micrograms min-1. Seventeen fetuses served as controls. Hypoxia was induced by intermittent complete occlusions of the maternal abdominal aorta. Maternal terbutaline levels were high (range 50-748 nmol l-1) in the max group and the 30-micrograms group, whereas those in the 10-micrograms group were in the clinical range (range 11-58 nmol l-1). Fetuses in the max and 30-micrograms groups reacted to moderate hypoxia with excessive responses of heart rate, blood pressure myocardial contractility and ST waveform changes and a 50% mortality rate during severe hypoxia as compared with 12% in the control animals. Ten micrograms min-1 did not decrease the survival but caused an increase in myocardial workload and a negative energy balance during severe hypoxia.