The dead newborns and stillborns of a French department (Ille et Vilaine, préfecture: Rennes) were studied during a 3 year period by a multidisciplinary physician group. There were 128 newborns and 207 stillborns among whom autopsies were carried out in 90 (72%) and 107 (52%) respectively. The contribution of the autopsies to diagnosis was highly different in the two groups: 92% in newborns and 34% in the stillborns. In the stillborns, autopsy was only contributive when congenital malformations were observed, whereas it was not when the cause of the death was obstetrical. We conclude that an autopsy must be performed in all dead newborns and stillborns; however for stillborns complementary investigations must be added, particularly on the placenta.