We speculated that prophylactic ligation of the ductus arteriosus would reduce mortality and morbidity in very-low-birth-weight infants. To test this hypothesis, we randomly assigned 84 babies who weighed 1000 g or less at birth and required supplemental oxygen either to receive standard treatment (n = 44) or to undergo prophylactic surgical ligation of the ductus arteriosus on the day of birth (n = 40). The ductus was ligated in babies in the control group only if the shunt was hemodynamically important. All the babies were followed for one year. The incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis was reduced in the group that underwent prophylactic ligation (3 of 40 [8 percent]) as compared with the control group (13 of 44 [30 percent]; P = 0.002). The frequency of death, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, retinopathy of prematurity, and intraventricular hemorrhage was similar in both groups. Because early enteral feeding may have increased the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis, we analyzed separately the babies who were fed early. Among the infants who were fed within 14 days of birth, those who underwent prophylactic ligation had a lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (1 of 11 [9 percent]) than those who did not (13 of 24 [54 percent]; P = 0.001). Within the control group, the infants who were fed within 14 days of birth and whose ductus was ligated for medical reasons within 5 days of birth had a lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis (2 of 10 [20 percent]) than those whose ductus was ligated later or not at all (11 of 14 [79 percent]; P = 0.004). We conclude that early surgical closure of the ductus arteriosus reduces the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis in infants of very low birth weight who require supplemental oxygen.