A cornerstone of neonatal resuscitation teaching suggests that a rapid vagal-mediated bradycardia is one of the first signs of perinatal compromise. As this understanding is based primarily on fetal studies, we investigated whether the heart rate and blood pressure response to total asphyxia is influenced by whether the animal is in utero or ex utero. METHODS: Fetal sheep were instrumented at approximately 139 days of gestation and then asphyxiated by umbilical cord occlusion until mean arterial blood pressure decreased to approximately 20 mmHg. Lambs were either completely submerged in amniotic fluid (in utero; n = 8) throughout the asphyxia or were delivered and then remained ex utero (ex utero; n = 8) throughout the asphyxia. Heart rate and arterial blood pressure were continuously recorded. RESULTS: Heart rate was higher in ex utero lambs than in utero lambs. Heart rates in in utero lambs rapidly decreased, while heart rates in ex utero lambs initially increased following cord occlusion (for approximately 1.5 min) before they started to decrease. Mean arterial pressure initially increased then decreased in both groups. CONCLUSIONS: Heart rate response to asphyxia was markedly different depending upon whether the lamb was in utero or ex utero. This indicates that the cardiovascular responses to perinatal asphyxia are significantly influenced by the newborn s local environment. As such, based solely on heart rate, the stage and severity of a perinatal asphyxic event may not be as accurate as previously assumed.