Seven pregnant women with early-onset (<32 weeks' gestation) intrauterine growth retardation were studied to examine fetal heart rate and fetal activity patterns after vibratory acoustic stimulation. All studies were done between 26 and 32 weeks' gestation. All fetuses but one were not acidotic at birth. There was a reduced time during which accelerations (50% less), long-term fetal heart rate variability (25% less), and body movements (60% less) occurred in small-for-gestational-age fetuses compared with these times in age-matched normally grown fetuses. Fetal heart rate and fetal activity patterns were not significantly altered after stimulation with the electronic artificial larynx. We hypothesized that severe, early-onset (<32 weeks' gestation), chronic nutritional deprivation of human fetuses is associated with a delay in the functional maturation of fetal sensory receptors.