The developing fetus requires an adequate supply of fatty acids, in particular PUFA, for optimal growth and development. Little is known about the transfer of fatty acids by the placenta into the fetal circulation. However, the molecular form in which fatty acids are transferred into the fetal circulation may influence their metabolism and hence their availability to specific tissues. The aim of the present study was to determine which lipid pools in the fetal circulation become enriched in fatty acids from the placenta by comparing the fatty acid compositions of individual lipid pools between umbilical venous (UV) and umbilical arterial (UA) plasma. Plasma from the UV and UA was collected after delivery from ten uncomplicated pregnancies, and the fatty acid composition of each lipid class was determined by GC. Total NEFA concentration in the UV was twofold higher than in the UA (P < 0·05) due to enrichment in 16 : 0, 16 : 1n-7, 18 : 1n-9, 18 : 1n-7, 18 : 2n-6, 20 : 3n-6, 20 : 4n-6, 24 : 0 and 22 : 6n-3. Total cholesteryl ester concentration was twofold higher in the UV than in the UA (P < 0·05) due to enrichment in 16 : 0, 16 : 1n-7, 18 : 0, 18 : 1n-9, 18 : 1n-7, 18 : 2n-6 and 20 : 4n-6. There were no significant UV–UA differences in the total concentration or composition of TAG or phosphatidylcholine. The present study demonstrates differential enrichment across the placenta of fatty acids into specific lipid pools in the fetal circulation. Such partitioning may facilitate supply of individual fatty acids to specific fetal tissues.