The mean distribution of lengths in the third complementarity-determining region of the heavy chain (HCDR3) serves as a measure of the development of the antibody repertoire during ontogeny. To determine the timing and pattern of HCDR3 length maturation during the third trimester of pregnancy, the mean distribution of HCDR3 lengths among variable-diversity-joining-constant-μ (VDJC μ) transcripts from the cord blood was analyzed from 138 infants of 23 to 40 weeks' gestation, including 3 sets of twins, 2 of which were of dizygotic origin. HCDR3 maturation begins at the start of the third trimester; follows a slow, continuous expansion over a 5-month period; and is unaffected by race or sex. The range and mean distribution of lengths may vary in dizygotic twins, indicating individual rates of development. The mean HCDR3 length distribution in 10 premature infants with documented bacterial sepsis was then followed for 2 to 12 weeks after their first positive blood culture. HCDR3 spectrotype analysis demonstrated oligoclonal B-cell activation and expansion after sepsis, but maturation of the repertoire was not accelerated even by the systemic exposure to external antigen represented by bacteremia. Antibody repertoire development appears to be endogenously controlled and adheres to an individualized developmental progression that probably contributes to the relative immaturity of the neonatal immune response. © 2001 by The American Society of Hematology.