The traditional way to study the immunology of pregnancy follows the classical transplantation model, which views the fetus as an allograft. A more recent approach, which is the subject of this Review, focuses on the unique, local uterine immune response to the implanting placenta. This approach requires knowledge of placental structure and its variations in different species, as this greatly affects the type of immune response that is generated by the mother. At the implantation site, cells from the mother and the fetus intermingle during pregnancy. Unravelling what happens here is crucial to our understanding of why some human pregnancies are successful whereas others are not.