The purpose of this clinical investigation was to determine the maternal and perinatal results of continuing pregnancy in 118 consecutive patients with premature rupture of the membranes at 16 to 26 weeks. The mean gestational age at diagnosis of premature rupture of the membranes was 23.1 +/- 2.7 weeks, with a median of 23.5. The interval from rupture to delivery ranged from 1 to 152 days, with a mean of 13. There was no correlation between gestational age at the time of rupture and the latency period. Thirty-five patients received tocolytic agents and 24 received steroids. Forty-eight percent were delivered within 3 days, 67% within 1 week, and 83% within 2 weeks. There was one maternal death from sepsis; 46 (39%) had amnionitis, and 8 (6.8%) had abruptio placentae. The mean gestational age at the time of delivery was 24.7 +/- 3.6 weeks. The 118 pregnancies resulted in 124 births. There were 17 stillbirths and 67 neonatal deaths, for a total perinatal mortality of 67.7%. In patients with premature rupture of the membranes at less than or equal to 23 weeks the perinatal survival rate was 13.3%, while it was 50% in patients with premature rupture of the membranes at 24 to 26 weeks (p less than 0.0001). Information was charted at 3 to 36 months for 34 of 40 surviving infants. The intact survival rate in this group was 67%, and 33% had some form of developmental abnormality. Expectant management in such cases can be justified in only a limited number of patients (patients who understand and accept the risks and patients beyond 23 weeks of gestation).