Tracheal intubation is frequently required in neonatal anaesthetic practice. Awake intubation is one method of securing the airway and in certain circumstances, for many anaesthetists, can be preferable to intubation following induction of anaesthesia. Previous studies have inferred that the elevation in anterior fontanelle pressure observed during tracheal intubation in neonates was caused by an increase in cerebral blood flow although it was never measured. In this study, direct methods were used to observe changes in the cerebral circulation. Thirteen neonates, ASA I to III (E), aged from 1 to 34 days of age were studied. Patients were randomized to receive either tracheal intubation awake or following induction of anaesthesia with thiopentone 5 mg.kg-1 and succinylcholine 2 mg.kg-1. Heart rate, systolic arterial blood pressure, anterior fontanelle pressure, cerebral blood flow velocity (using transcranial Doppler sonography) and oxygen saturation were recorded at the following intervals: baseline (not crying), after intravenous atropine 0.02 mg.kg-1, during laryngoscopy, immediately after insertion of the endotracheal tube, one and five minutes later. The use of atropine masked the cardiovascular responses to intubation. Whereas the change in anterior fontanelle pressure from baseline was different between the groups (P < 0.05), the cerebral blood flow velocity variables were not. The rise in anterior fontanelle pressure seen in the awake group may be attributed to a reduction of the venous outflow from the cranium thereby increasing cerebral blood volume and subsequently the intracranial pressure.