New methods of imaging the oxygenation, hemodynamics, and metabolism of the newborn infant brain are being developed, based on illumination of the head with near-infrared light. Techniques known as optical topography and optical tomography have the potential to provide valuable information about the function of the normal brain, and about a variety of cerebral pathology such as hypoxic-ischemia. Optical methods provide a unique means of monitoring brain oxygenation safely in an intensive care environment without interference with the normal handling of the infant. Studies on infants have focused on the assessment of steady-state regional cerebral perfusion and tissue oxygenation, as well as monitoring hemodynamic changes in response to sensory stimulation. Recent technological and methodological advances in this research field are reviewed, and the likely impact of optical imaging methods on the care of newborn infants is assessed.