BACKGROUND: Previous research has found an association between obstetric complications and schizophrenia, but in many studies the sample size was limited, and no assessment of specific exposures was possible. AIMS: To assess the role of different complications, and in particular to distinguish between disordered foetal development and hypoxia at birth. METHOD: From the Stockholm County In-Patient Register and community registers, we identified 524 cases of schizophrenia and 1043 controls, matched for age, gender, hospital and parish of birth. Data on obstetric complications were obtained from birth records. RESULTS: There was a strong association between signs of asphyxia at birth and schizophrenia (OR 4.4; 95% C11.9-10.3) after adjustment for other obstetric complications, maternal history of psychotic illness and social class. CONCLUSIONS: Signs of asphyxia at birth are associated with an increased risk of schizophrenia in adults.