An increase in lung liquid may contribute to respiratory disease in preterm infants. Uneven distribution of lung liquid may cause heterogeneity in the lung disease seen in these infants. We used magnetic resonance imaging to investigate lung water content and distribution in 16 preterm (24-31 weeks) and 9 term infants in the first week of life. Images of lung parenchyma were examined and relative proton density quantified to give an index of lung water. Lung water content and distribution were compared between preterm and term infants, and in preterm infants regional signal distribution between dependent and nondependent lung on T1 weighted images was also compared after turning between prone and supine positions. Relative proton density was higher in preterm than in term lung (p < 0.008) and greater in dependent than in nondependent regions, particularly in the preterm (p < 0.001). Repositioning preterm infants rapidly redistributed signal intensities, with more even distribution lying prone than supine (p < 0.001). Small, low-signal regions were seen in the lung parenchyma in preterm but not in term infants, which may indicate peribronchial fluid or overdistension of compliant lung units. We conclude that lung water content is higher in preterm than in term infants and is associated with gravity-related changes consistent with dependent atelectasis.