In a prospective longitudinal study of 48 very low birthweight and preterm infants with mean birthweight 1 385 +/- 343 and gestational age 30.8 +/- 2.9 w an assessment was made of the impact of varying the protein intake in the postnatal period from the 3rd to 7th week of life. The infants were randomly allocated to one of three dietary groups with isocaloric energy supply but different protein content--i.e. human milk (1.6 g/100 kcal), formula 1 (2.3 g/100 kcal) and formula 2 (3.0 g/100 kcal). In the human milk group 12 of 18 infants were fed their own mother's breastmilk. During the study period the mean weight gain was slightly higher in the infants fed formula 1 and 2. There were no group differences in S-albumin whereas B-urea-N and B-base deficit were significantly increased in the formula fed infants in comparison to infants fed human milk. After the study period until around 15 weeks of age the slope in weight gain remained slightly higher for formula fed infants. However, the gain in body length and head circumference was equal in all three groups. After around 8 months of age there was no difference in any growth parameter. Neurodevelopmental examinations showed no group differences during the follow-up period to 2 years of age.