There is limited data describing how preterm and term infants breathe spontaneously immediately after birth. We studied spontaneously breathing infants >or=29 wk immediately after birth. Airway flow and tidal volume were measured for 90 s using a hot wire anemometer attached to a facemask. Twelve preterm and 13 term infants had recordings suitable for analysis. The median (interquartile range) proportion of expiratory braking was very high in both groups (preterm 90 [74-99] vs. term 87 [74-94]%; NS). Crying pattern was the predominant breathing pattern for both groups (62 [36-77]% vs. 64 [46-79]%; NS). Preterm infants showed a higher incidence of expiratory hold pattern (9 [4-17]% vs. 2 [0-6]%; p = 0.02). Both groups had large tidal volumes (6.7 [3.9] vs. 6.5 [4.1] mL/kg), high peak inspiratory flows (5.7 [3.8] vs. 8.0  L/min), lower peak expiratory flow (3.6 [2.4] vs. 4.8 [3.2] L/min), short inspiration time (0.31 [0.13] vs. 0.32 [0.16] s) and long expiration time (0.93 [0.64] vs. 1.14 [0.86] s). Directly after birth, both preterm and term infants frequently brake their expiration, mostly by crying. Preterm infants use significantly more expiratory breath holds to defend their lung volume.