The effect of epidural infusions containing fentanyl on maternal gastric emptying in labour was examined using the rate of paracetamol absorption. Women were randomly allocated to receive one of two epidural infusions, bupivacaine 0.125% alone or bupivacaine 0.0625% with fentanyl 2.5 micrograms.ml-1 at a rate of 10-12 ml.h-1. Paracetamol 1.5 g was given orally to women after either 30 ml of the infusion solution had been given (mean time 2.5 h, study A) or 40-50 ml (mean time 4.5 h. study B). Six venous blood samples were taken over the next 90 min for measurement of plasma paracetamol concentration. There were no significant differences in maximum plasma paracetamol concentration, time to maximum paracetamol concentration and area under the concentration-time curve between the two groups for study A. In study B the time to maximum plasma paracetamol concentration was significantly delayed in women receiving > 100 micrograms fentanyl compared with controls (p < 0.05). We conclude that the dose of fentanyl that may delay gastric emptying when given by epidural infusion is greater than 100 micrograms.