The interaction between various antioxidants may be important in protecting the newborn baby against oxygen toxicity. We studied the total radical trapping capacity of the antioxidants in plasma (TRAP) and compared the TRAP level in the preterm and term baby (cord blood) with that in adults. In addition, the concentrations of various known antioxidants were measured and the theoretical contribution of these antioxidants to the TRAP calculated. The measured and calculated TRAP were higher in the newborn babies than the adults. The uric acid concentration was similar in the three groups but the vitamin C concentration was higher and the vitamin E and sulfhydryl concentrations were lower in the newborn babies. In contrast to the adult group, the measured TRAP in the newborn babies did not correlate with the calculated TRAP. This may be due to differences in inhibition or recycling of antioxidants in the newborn and adult groups. Theoretical considerations showed that there may be a large unidentified group of antioxidants that contribute to measured TRAP in plasma. Bilirubin and beta-carotene were measured (higher and lower concentrations, respectively, in the newborn) in an attempt to identify these antioxidants. The efficient plasma radical trapping capacity in the cord blood may partly compensate for deficiencies in other components of the antioxidant defenses, e.g. cellular enzymes, at the time of birth.