Prophylaxis of thromboembolism with low molecular mass (LMM) heparin may offer several advantages over conventional heparin during pregnancy. Heparin-related side effects as osteoporosis, local allergy, thrombocytopenia and increase in liver enzymes may occur less frequently with LMM heparin. However, LMM heparins of different origins have to be considered as individual pharmaceutical compounds. This is of special clinical importance regarding a possible placental passage. We performed a randomized controlled study comparing the anti-factor Xa activities in plasma samples of 60 pregnant women undergoing delivery at term and in the umbilical cord vein of the newborn after subcutaneous administration of 5,000 IU unfractionated (UF) heparin or 1,500 activated partial thromboplastin time units LMM heparin or placebo. Injections were performed about 2 h prior to the delivery. Maternal and fetal blood samples were taken at the same time to assay heparin activity by the heptest coagulation assay and the S2222 chromogenic substrate method. LMM heparin was detected in all maternal plasma samples whereas UF heparin was measurable only in about one third of them. UF heparin as well as LMM heparin were not detectable in samples taken from the umbilical cord vein. The data demonstrate that neither UF nor the LMM heparin used in this study cross the placenta in relevant inhibitory activity towards factor Xa. This finding is in accordance with the previous experiences regarding the safe administration of other LMM heparins for prophylaxis of thromboembolism during pregnancy.