Eighteen term infants with hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) were studied with serial magnetic resonance imaging of the brain for up to two months following birth. Important early findings included brain swelling, cortical highlighting, diffuse loss of grey/white differentiation and loss of signal in the posterior limb of the internal capsule (PLIC). These signs were easier to identify on T1-weighted spin echo or inversion recovery sequences than on T2-weighted spin echo sequences. Brain swelling was only seen in the first seven days and was present in all grades of HIE. All other signs persisted and were associated with the subsequent development of major structural changes in the brain. The exact pattern of injury was best identified after the first week of life once the signs of brain swelling had cleared.