Decreased arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO2) results in decreased cerebral blood flow, which is associated with diminished cerebral electrical activity. In such a situation, cerebral fractional oxygen extraction (CFOE) would be expected to increase to preserve cerebral oxygen delivery. This study aimed to determine whether changes in blood gases in infants less than 30 wk' gestation were associated with changes in background electroencephalograms (EEG) and CFOE. Thirty-two very low birth weight infants were studied daily for the first three days after birth. Digital EEG recordings were performed for 75 min each day. CFOE, mean blood pressure and arterial blood gases were measured midway through each recording. EEG was analysed by (a) spectral analysis and (b) manual calculation of interburst interval. Blood pressure, pH and PaCO2 did not have any effect on the EEG. On day one, only PaCO2 showed a relationship with the relative power of the delta frequency band (0.5-3.5 Hz) and the interburst interval. The relative power of the delta band remained within normal limits when PaCO2 was between 24 and 55 mmHg on day one. There was a negative association between PaCO2 and CFOE. The associations between PaCO2 and EEG measurements were strongest on day one, weaker on day two, and absent on day three. The slowing of EEG and increased CFOE at lower levels of PaCO2 are likely to be due to decreased cerebral oxygen delivery induced by hypocarbia. When PaCO2 was higher, there was suppression of the EEG.