Since the umbilical arteries carry fetal blood to the placenta we studied flow velocity waveforms in these vessels with a simple continuous wave Doppler system to assess placental blood flow. The ratio of peak systolic to least diastolic (A/B) flow velocity was measured as an index of placental flow resistance. In 15 normal pregnancies there was a small but significant decrease in this ratio through the last trimester. The A/B ratio was measured on 436 occasions in 168 high-risk pregnancies. In 32 of 43 fetuses subsequently shown to be small for gestational age there was an increase in placental flow resistance with reduced, absent or even reversed flow in diastole. This finding was also present in the one fetus which died in utero. Serial studies in patients with fetal compromise indicated increasing flow resistance, a reverse of the normal trend. These results were not available to the clinician yet of 24 fetuses born before 32 weeks 13 had a high A/B ratio, and all of them were born electively. Maternal hypertension was associated with an increase in fetal placental flow resistance. The umbilical artery A/B ratio provides a new and non-invasive measure of feto-placental blood flow resistance.