Thirty-five neonates developed radiologically proven necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) over a 40 month period. They were 28 +/- 2 weeks gestation, and weighted 1094 +/- 411 g at birth. Eighteen infants (51%) required surgery and three (8.5%) died. The incidence was 6.7% in the very low birthweight (VLBW) infants. A large proportion of NEC (60%) presented beyond 10 days of life. An inverse relationship between gestation and age of onset was observed. The age of presentation was 22 +/- 13 days (range 10-53 days) for the 18 infants less than or equal to 28 weeks compared with 7 +/- 5 days for those over 28 weeks (P less than 0.01). Five NEC infants had bacteraemia which occurred 2-7 days prior to gastrointestinal symptoms of NEC, and four were staphylococcal. Compared with infants controlled for gestation, there was no significant differences observed in perinatal events or feeding history. We concluded that an immature gastrointestinal system is vulnerable to NEC even beyond the early neonatal period.