To determine whether surgical repair of congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CHD) results in improvement in respiratory mechanics, we measured respiratory system compliance in nine patients (five survivors and four nonsurvivors) before and after operation. In all nine infants, CHD was diagnosed within 6 hours of life, and surgical repair was through an abdominal approach after a period of stabilization. Measurements were made noninvasively, using the passive expiratory flow-volume technique. In only one of the nine infants did compliance immediately improve after surgical repair, and in another it showed no change. Both of these infants survived, with an uneventful postoperative course. In the remaining seven infants, however, postoperative compliance immediately decreased to 10% to 77% from the preoperative value. The four infants with more than 50% decrease in compliance died with increasing hypoxemia and acidosis. These results suggest that respiratory mechanics in CHD, far from improving, frequently deteriorate as a result of repair of the hernia. The role of urgent surgery in this malformation should be reevaluated.