In vivo (plethysmography) and in vitro (en bloc preparations) experiments were performed from embryonic day 16 (E16) to postnatal day 9 (P9) in order to analyse the perinatal maturation of the respiratory rhythm-generator in mice. At E16, delivered foetuses did not ventilate and survive but at E18 they breathed at about 110 cycles/min with respiratory cycles of variable individual duration. From E18 to P0–P2, the respiratory cycles stabilised without changes in the breathing parameters. However, these increased several-fold during the next days. Hypoxia increased breathing frequency from E18–P5 and only significantly affected ventilation from P3 onwards. At E16, in vitro medullary preparations (pons resection) produced rhythmic phrenic bursts at a low frequency (about 5 cycles/min) with variable cycle duration. At E18, their frequency doubled but cycle duration remained variable. After birth, the frequency did not change although cycle duration stabilised. At E18 and P0–P2, the in vitro frequency decreased by around 50% under hypoxia, increased by 40–50% under noradrenaline or substance P and was permanently depressed by the pontine A5 areas. At E16 however, hypoxia had no effects, both noradrenaline and substance P drastically increased the frequency and area A5 inhibition was not expressed at this time. At E18 and P0–P2, electrical stimulation and electrolytic lesion of the rostral ventrolateral medulla affected the in vitro rhythm but failed to induce convincing effects at E16. Thus, a major maturational step in respiratory rhythmogenesis occurs between E16–E18, in agreement with the concept of multiple rhythmogenic mechanisms.