1. Uterine, umbilical and, by difference, uteroplacental net uptakes of oxygen, glucose, lactate and 3-hydroxybutyrate (uterine uptake only) were measured in single-pregnant ewes which were either well-fed throughout, or severely undernourished for 8–20 d during late pregnancy. All animals were studied while standing at rest and then while walking on a treadmill at 0.7 m/s on a 10° slope for 60 min.
2. Undernutrition did not significantly affect fetal or placental weights at 143 d gestation but caused a 14% decrease in maternal live weight. Uterine blood flow was decreased by 32% and was associated with a significant decrease in uteroplacental oxygen uptake; neither umbilical blood flow nor fetal O2, uptake were affected by maternal plane of nutrition. Maternal and fetal hypoglycaemia in underfed ewes was accompanied by 46–63 % decreases in uterine, umbilical and uteroplacental net uptakes of glucose, and similar declines in uterine and umbilical glucose/O, quotients. Moderate maternal hyperketonaemia was associated with 2.5-fold and 3-fold increases in uterine net uptake of 3-hydroxybutyrate and 3-hydroxybutyrate/O2 quotient respectively.
3. Exercise caused significant decreases in uterine blood flow in fed and underfed ewes but did not affect uterine or umbilical O2 uptakes; uterine net glucose uptake increased in most ewes but umbilical uptake was not significantly affected. Umbilical net uptake of lactate was significantly reduced. In underfed ewes, the extent of hyperketonaemia was significantly reduced by exercise.
4. Contrary to earlier proposals, the ovine pregnant uterus is sensitive and adaptable to long- and short-term alterations in maternal energy balance, as achieved by chronic undernutrition and exercise respectively. Thus, the fetus and placenta significantly add to, but do not necessarily have priority over the energy demands of other tissues of the ewe.