This study documents the longitudinal development of head control in 104 infants born at 25-33 weeks gestation. Protective side turning of the head was found to have a developmental sequence of reducing spinal extension. In the 93 infants with normal motor outcome, individual differences in the rate of development correlated with caudo-cephalic muscle development (P less than 0.001, r = 0.5) but not with the length of extra-uterine experience. As a group, the 11 infants with later motor handicap showed a persistence of the early form of movement at 35-39 weeks post-menstrual age, without a significant correlation with the ratio of upper-lower limb muscle development. Head control, supine to sitting, in the infants with normal motor outcome showed variations in the rate of preterm development. The infants born at less than 31 weeks showed significantly higher scores at 33-35 weeks post-menstrual age than those born at 31-33 weeks (P less than 0.01). There was no difference at later ages. The spinal extension movement accompanying protective side turning of the head is age specific to the preterm infant. Individual rates of normal preterm development can be evaluated by longitudinal standardised examination. As a group, the infants with subsequent abnormal motor development showed delay at preterm age but this was not individually significant.