Our objective was to investigate the association of childhood leukaemia with selected maternal and birth characteristics by conducting a population-based case-control study using linked cancer registry and birth certificate records for Washington State. We compared maternal and infant characteristics of 595 Washington-born residents <20 years old with leukaemia diagnosed during 1981-2003, and 5,950 control children, using stratified analysis and logistic regression. Maternal age 35+ years (odds ratio [OR] 1.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.1, 2.0), infant birthweight 4,000+ g (OR 1.4; 95% CI 1.1, 1.8), neonatal jaundice (OR 1.5; 95% CI 1.1, 2.1), and Down's syndrome (OR 31.3; 95% CI 6.4, 153.4) were associated with an increased risk of leukaemia. Among women with 2+ pregnancies, having at least two prior early (<20 weeks' gestation) fetal deaths was also associated with an increased risk (OR 1.5; 95% CI 0.97, 2.1). Maternal unmarried status (OR 0.7; 95% CI 0.6, 0.9) and African American race (OR 0.5; 95% CI 0.3, 0.9) were associated with a decreased risk. These results were more marked for acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) than for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), and for leukaemia diagnosed <5 years of age. These results may provide clues to the aetiology of childhood leukaemia. Genetic epidemiological studies are needed to expand our knowledge of inherent and possibly prenatal influences on the occurrence of this disease.