The increased survival of sick and preterm neonates may be associated with long-term problems which must be recognised and managed if outcome is to be optimised. In a prospective study of 35 neonates (median gestational age at birth 34 weeks) admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit over a 3-month period, we have documented a high incidence (14 of 35) of immature or abnormal feeding patterns when infants were assessed at 36 to 40 weeks postmenstrual age. Neonates with prolonged respiratory support and delayed enteral and oral feeding were most affected. Compared with neonates who have normal initial feeding assessments, neonates with disorganised or dysfunctional feeding were six times more likely to vomit and three times more likely to cough when offered solid food at 6 months of age. At 12 months of age significant differences were also found in tolerating lumpy food and enjoying mealtimes. We hypothesise that these feeding problems contribute to failure to thrive and psychosocial distress after discharge from the neonatal unit and propose potential neonatal measures to reduce their incidence.