The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of vaginal delivery on both ACTH and catecholamines (DA, NE, E) secretion in the mother, the fetus (umbilical artery) and the newborn. Blood samples were obtained from 19 normal pregnant women and the corresponding umbilical cords, and from the newborns. Seventeen normal nonpregnant women, matched for age and parity, were also included in the study as "nonpregnant controls". The results demonstrate that in the mother, plasma catecholamines (CA) concentrations during labor and delivery are elevated above the values reported for normal nonpregnant women and there is a predominant E response. The concentrations of CA in umbilical arteries are very high compared to those in the corresponding mother and they fall rapidly after birth. Unlike that in the mother, the predominant CA response to parturition in the fetus and newborn infant is NE. The extraction rate of DA, NE and E from placenta is approximately 60%. The peripheral plasma levels of ACTH in pregnant women during labor are twice and 10 times as high as those observed in the corresponding umbilical arteries and in nonpregnant women respectively. At delivery they increase further. No significant differences are found between the values measured in the arterial cord blood and those in the venous cord blood and in the newborns. A way of explaining the prevalence of E and the higher ACTH/E ratio found in the mother in comparison with the fetus could be that in the mother the stress response to parturition is regulated mainly by the pituitary-adrenal axis, whereas in the fetus there is a prevalent stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.