To investigate airflow regulation in newborn infants, we recorded airflow, volume, diaphragm (Di), and laryngeal electromyogram (EMG) during spontaneous breathing in eight supine unsedated sleeping full-term neonates. Using an esophageal catheter electrode, we recorded phasic respiratory activity consistent with that of the principal laryngeal abductors, the posterior cricoarytenoids (PCA). Sequential activation of PCA and Di preceded inspiration. PCA activity typically peaked early in inspiration followed by either a decrescendo or tonic EMG activity of variable amplitude during expiration. Expiratory airflow retardation, or braking, accompanied by expiratory prolongation and reduced ventilation, was commonly observed. In some subjects we observed a time interval between PCA onset and a sudden increase in expiratory airflow just before inspiration, suggesting that release of the brake involved an abrupt loss of antagonistic adductor activity. Our findings suggest that airflow in newborn infants is controlled throughout the breathing cycle by the coordinated action of the Di and the reciprocal action of PCA and laryngeal adductor activities. We conclude that braking mechanisms in infants interact with vagal reflex mechanisms that modulate respiratory cycle timing to influence both the dynamic maintenance of end-expiratory lung volume and ventilation.