In a multi-centre prospective study of systemic lupus erythematosus and pregnancy in France, 117 cases were identified from 1987 to 1992. We report significant morbidity and mortality for mother and fetus from an analysis of 103 cases. Pregnancy outcome was as follows: 28 full-term births, 48 premature births, 18 fetal losses (13 early and two late spontaneous abortions, three stillbirths), five therapeutic abortions and four elective abortions (for unwanted pregnancy). Four preterm neonates died. Lupus was active at pregnancy onset in 28 patients. Of 75 patients with inactive lupus at conception, 27 relapsed during pregnancy, and seven postpartum. Two patients with nephrotic syndrome treated with high-dose corticosteroids died from opportunistic infections. Fetal loss correlated with a history of proteinuria and absence of anti-SSA antibodies. Prematurity was related to a history of fetal loss, active lupus at pregnancy onset, hypertension and > or = 20 mg/day prednisone during pregnancy. Intrauterine growth retardation correlated with pregnancy of short duration, low serum C3 or C4, hypertension, and absence of SSA antibodies. Three of 22 newborns whose mothers had anti-SSA antibodies developed neonatal lupus: two with cutaneous involvement and one with complete atrioventricular block.