To determine if active perinatal management was justified in preterm deliveries at less than or equal to 26 weeks' gestation, the outcome (survival and short- and long-term morbidity) of 43 infants (group I) born between 23 and 26 weeks' gestation was compared with that of 17 infants (group II) born at 27 weeks' gestation. Of the 12 surviving infants in group I (survival 28%), 11 were ventilated (median = 50 days), eight had moderate to severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and four had mild retrolental fibroplasia. At follow-up, two infants had physical disabilities with moderate to severe functional impairment, one had a minor disability, and nine had normal neurodevelopment. In contrast, of the 13 surviving infants in group II (survival 76%), nine were ventilated (median = 8 days), six had moderate to severe bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and six had mild RLF. At follow-up, one infant had a physical disability with moderate to severe functional impairment, four had minor disabilities, and eight had normal development. Perinatal factors that positively influenced survival in the two groups combined included active perinatal management, antenatal steroids, female sex, and absence of clinical chorioamnionitis and asphyxia. Although group I infants had a significantly higher mortality rate (p less than 0.05) and required a longer duration of ventilation (p less than 0.05), no differences in the incidence of postnatal complications or long-term morbidity at 2 to 4 years of age were evident between the two groups.