Eight paediatric patients undergoing major surgery for correction of scoliosis who were treated postoperatively with hypotonic saline and 5% dextrose have been studied. Plasma sodium, renin and aldosterone, and urine volume, sodium and osmolality were measured. These patients had an impaired ability to excrete a sodium-free water load. In the first 60 h urine volume remained reduced, while in the first 36 h urine sodium remained concurrently high. If the first 36 h postoperation are considered, the sodium-free water given was quantitatively retained and the serum sodium at 36 h was significantly correlated with the amount of free water given (P less than 0.01). To minimize postoperative hyponatraemia and the associated shift of water into the brain causing cerebral oedema, it is recommended that no more than 50 ml/kg sodium-free water be given until urine sodium falls and volume increases.