Summary. Thirty-one fetuses with growth retardation were studied by Doppler estimation of the cardiac output from each side of the fetal heart. Asymmetrical growth retardation was diagnosed in 16 fetuses by a head to abdominal circumference ratio above the 95th centile. In the 15 fetuses with symmetrical growth retardation, the distribution of cardiac output was normal. The mean and maximum velocity of blood flow in the pulmonary artery and aorta were similar to values in normal fetuses, and there was a greater calculated output from the right heart than from the left. The right heart flow expressed as a percentage of the combined cardiac output was not statistically significantly different from that in normal fetuses. In contrast, all 16 fetuses with asymmetrical growth retardation had a higher mean and maximum velocity in the aorta than in the pulmonary artery. The calculated volume flow from each side of the heart showed a greater output from the left than the right heart in 15. The right heart flow expressed as a percentage of the combined cardiac output was statistically different from the value in normal fetuses. These findings are consistent with theories of the redistribution of fetal blood flow, where cerebral blood flow is preferentially ‘spared’.