Some differences among neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia may reflect variations in medical care practices. After adjusting for differences in the inherent risk of bronchopulmonary dysplasia among 223 infants of less than 1751 gm birth weight who were admitted to three Harvard-affiliated NICUs, we used multivariate analysis to explore the extent to which medical care practices during the first days of life varied with the rate of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. In our analyses, variables were grouped by three major hypotheses: oxygen toxicity, barotrauma, and fluid overload. The NICU designated 1 (the one with the highest rate of bronchopulmonary dysplasia) used much higher than expected colloidal volumes during the first 4 days of life; in contrast, in the NICU designated 3 (the one with the lowest rate of bronchopulmonary dysplasia), infants consistently received lower than expected amounts of colloidal solution. Signs of patent ductus arteriosus were also much more frequent than expected during this time at NICU 1; rates were much lower than predicted at NICU 2 and were near predicted values at NICU 3. Maximum inspired oxygen fraction during the first 4 days varied significantly in a direction inconsistent with the oxygen toxicity hypothesis. Maximum arterial oxygen tension was significantly less than expected at the hospital with the lowest rate of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (NICU 3). None of six medical care practices indicating potential for barotrauma varied with NICU expect for positive end-expiratory pressure, which varied in a direction suggesting a protective effect against bronchopulmonary dysplasia. These findings agree best with the hypothesis that differences in hydration during the first days of life account for some of the difference among NICUs in bronchopulmonary dysplasia occurrence.