Using capillary gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the effects of birth asphyxia on the urinary organic acid profile of term babies was investigated. Random urine samples were collected on days 1 and 8 from 19 babies with fetal distress, 19 with moderate birth asphyxia and 12 with severe asphyxia causing encephalopathy. Controls were 27 well neonates. Statistically significant abnormalities were found only for the severely asphyxiated group: increased concentrations of lactic, pyruvic, 3-hydroxybutyric, 4-hydroxyphenyllactic and 4-hydroxy-3-methoxymandelic acids, and excretion of four abnormal metabolites, 2-hydroxybutyric, 2-oxoisocaproic, 2-hydroxyisovaleric and 2-oxo-3-methylvaleric acids. Six other babies had increased lactic acid excretion, associated in four with transient 'jitterness' or hypotonia. Organic acid studies may help to grade the severity of perinatal asphyxia in the outcome or intervention studies.