The ontogeny of serum prolactin and its relation to several variables, especially lung function, in 543 neonates was studied. Umbilical cord serum prolactin levels rose between 24 and 42 weeks' gestation, correlating significantly (p < 0.001) with gestational age (r = 0.44) and birth weight (r = 0.32). Among infants of similar ages, however, there was no variation in serum prolactin level as a function of birth weight, sex, Apgar scores, or delivery method. Infants of women with pregnancy-induced hypertension had higher than normal prolactin levels; infants of diabetic women had normal prolactin levels. At 31.5 to 37 weeks' gestation, infants who developed respiratory distress syndrome had lower serum prolactin levels than those whose lung function was normal or else was abnormal from causes other than respiratory distress syndrome. The risk for respiratory distress syndrome was higher in newborns whose prolactin level was low (10th percentile) than in infants whose prolactin level was high (90th percentile). These results are suggestive that prolactin may play a role in fetal lung maturation. © 1989.