Résumé : Newborns have to cope with hypoxia during delivery and a sudden increase in oxygen at birth. Oxygen will partly be released as reactive oxygen species having the potential to cause damage to DNA and proteins. In utero, increase of most (non)-enzymatic antioxidants occurs during last weeks of gestation, making preterm neonates probably more sensitive to oxidative stress. Moreover, it has been hypothesized that oxidative stress might be the common etiological factor for certain neonatal diseases in preterm infants. The aim of this study was to assess background DNA damage; in vitro H2O2 induced oxidative DNA damage and repair capacity (residual DNA damage) in peripheral blood mononucleated cells from 25 preterm newborns and their mothers. In addition, demographic data were taken into account and repair capacity of preterm was compared with full-term newborns. Multivariate linear regression analysis revealed that preterm infants from smoking fathers have higher background DNA damage levels than those from non-smoking fathers, emphasizing the risk of paternal smoking behaviour for the progeny. Significantly higher residual DNA damage found after 15-min repair in preterm children compared to their mothers and higher residual DNA damage after 2 h compared to full-term newborns suggest a slower DNA repair capacity in preterm children. In comparison with preterm infants born by caesarean delivery, preterm infants born by vaginal delivery do repair more slowly the in vitro induced oxidative DNA damage. Final impact of passive smoking and of the slower DNA repair activity of preterm infants need to be confirmed in a larger study population combining transgenerational genetic and/or epigenetic effects, antioxidant levels, genotypes, repair enzyme efficiency/levels and infant morbidity. © The Author 2012.