Abstract Magnetic resonance imaging may provide invaluable information in the term born neonate with encephalopathy. However, both hardware and sequences may need adaptation from normal adult protocols. Sedation is often required to obtain good quality imaging, but anaesthesia is not necessary in this population. The perinatal history may predict the pattern of brain lesions, which, in turn, may be used to predict the neurodevelopmental outcome. Image interpretation is not easy and requires a full clinical history in addition to experience of both normal and abnormal neonatal brain appearances. Lesions evolve rapidly, and perinatally acquired leasions are at the most obvious 1–2 weeks from delivery. Early imaging in the first few days from presentation should always include diffusion-weighted sequences to identify early ischaemic change. Advanced techniques such as venography, angiography and perfusion-weighted imaging may be useful in certain situations, and serial imaging may help differentiate perinatal-acquired lesions from other pathologies.