For the premature newborn, little is known about changes in brain activity during transition to extra-uterine life. We aim to quantify these changes in relation to the longer-term maturation of the developing brain. We analysed EEG for up to 72 hours after birth from 28 infants born <32 weeks of gestation. These infants had favourable neurodevelopment at 2 years of age and were without significant neurological compromise at time of EEG monitoring. Quantitative EEG was generated using features representing EEG power, discontinuity, spectral distribution, and inter-hemispheric connectivity. We found rapid changes in cortical activity over the 3 days distinct from slower changes associated with gestational age: for many features, evolution over 1 day after birth is equivalent to approximately 1 to 2.5 weeks of maturation. Considerable changes in the EEG immediately after birth implies that postnatal adaption significantly influences cerebral activity for early preterm infants. Postnatal age, in addition to gestational age, should be considered when analysing preterm EEG within the first few days after birth.