We evaluated to what extent acidosis and alkalosis and their respiratory and metabolic components during the first 12 hours of life occurred prior to early neonatal death and postnatal intracranial hemorrhage among 206 low birth weight, intubated premature babies participating in a clinical trial of phenobarbital prophylaxis for intracranial hemorrhage. Time-weighted indices included the time each baby spent with abnormal values of pH, PaCO2 and HCO3-. Babies whose birth weight was less than 1 kg suffered adversities associated with prolonged pH less than 7.35. Heavier birth weight babies were at increased risk of adversity if their pH fell below 7.2. Babies who were not severely acidotic initially, but became so within hours, were at prominently increased risk of death and hemorrhage. Babies who had a mild increase of PaCO2 between 45 and 60 mmHg were less likely to develop germinal matrix hemorrhage than their peers who had more severe hypercapnia. A time-weighted measure of metabolic deficit correlated with death, but not with hemorrhage. Prolonged exposure to pH greater than 7.55 was associated with reduced risk of subependymal/intraventricular hemorrhage and death, especially in babies below 1 kg birth weight. We conclude that acidosis is an antecedent of intracranial hemorrhage in low birth weight premature babies, that duration of exposure might convey important risk information, and that birth weight is a correlate of vulnerability to some pH disturbances.