Lung function measurement is difficult in unsedated infants; tidal breathing parameters are a useful non-invasive surrogate, but even these measurements cause disturbance from applying a facemask. We investigated a novel volumetric vest system (FloRight), which measures volume changes of the respiratory system from changes in the magnetic fields induced by current-carrying coils around the entire chest and abdomen. Using a facemask and ultrasonic flowmeter as comparator, we assessed the validity and repeatability of tidal breathing parameters measured by FloRight in 10 healthy newborn infants during natural sleep. We also assessed the effect of a facemask on tidal volume and tidal expiratory flow parameters. To assess the ability of the FloRight system to detect disease, we compared the healthy infants with 11 infants suffering from bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Tidal parameters with the FloRight vest corresponded closely with facemask measurements. Mean difference, mask minus vest, for tidal volume was 0.096 ml (P < 0.05), with limits of agreement +4.5 to -4.3 ml. Coefficient of repeatability was similar for mask and vest measurements. Tidal volume measured by FloRight with mask in place (20.6 ml) was significantly higher than without mask (16.1 ml), but tidal expiratory flow parameters were not altered. FloRight measurements of tidal parameters were markedly different between the two groups of infants, with tidal volume per Kg significantly higher and tidal expiratory flow parameters significantly lower. Our findings suggest that the FloRight system is able to measure tidal breathing parameters accurately, in healthy newborn infants, without prior calibration on the infant. It appears to have at least sufficient sensitivity to detect severe respiratory disease.