BACKGROUND: We hypothesized that ephedrine and phenylephrine are equal with respect to uterine and placental haemodynamics and fetal acid-base status after exposure to maternal hypoxaemia and hypotension in a chronic sheep model of increased placental vascular resistance (R(UA)). METHODS: At 114-135 days gestation, chronically instrumented fetal sheep underwent placental embolization leading to increased R(UA). Twenty-four hours after embolization, the ewes were anaesthetized and randomized to receive boluses of ephedrine (n=7) or phenylephrine (n=6) for epidural-induced hypotension after maternal hypoxaemia. Uterine (Q(UtA)) and placental (Q(UA)) volume blood flows and uterine vascular resistance (R(UtA)) and R(UA) were recorded. Uterine (PI(UtA)) and umbilical artery (PI(UA)) pulsatility indices were obtained by Doppler ultrasonography. Fetal arterial blood samples were analysed for acid-base values and lactate concentrations. RESULTS: During hypotension, Q(UtA), fetal pH, BE, and Po(2) decreased whereas R(UtA), PI(UtA), R(UA), and fetal lactate concentration increased. With ephedrine, Q(UtA), R(UtA), PI(UtA), R(UA), and fetal Po(2) returned to baseline. Fetal pH, BE, and lactate concentration did not change from hypotensive values. With phenylephrine, Q(UtA) remained lower (P=0.007) and R(UtA) (P=0.007), PI(UtA) (P=0.013), and R(UA) (P=0.050) higher than at baseline. Fetal Po(2) returned to baseline and fetal pH and BE did not change from hypotensive values. However, fetal lactate concentration increased further (mean difference 1.49, 95% confidence interval 0.72-2.26 mmol litre(-1); P=0.004). CONCLUSIONS: In a chronic sheep model of increased placental vascular resistance, compared with ephedrine administration, phenylephrine administration was associated with impaired uterine and placental haemodynamics and increased fetal lactate concentrations.