The Paris prospective birth cohort study was implemented in 2003 to assess environmental/behavioural factors associated with respiratory and allergic disorder occurrence in early childhood. This paper describes the design and sociodemographic features of eligible/enrolled families. Full-term newborns without any medical problem at birth were recruited in five Paris maternity hospitals. They resided in the Paris area and had French speaking mothers. Sample size is at least 3500 infants, and children are followed-up until their sixth birthday. Data collection is based on regular medical and environmental self-administered questionnaires to parents. Information on dwellings is gathered by means of phone questionnaires, and standardized medical examinations are carried out at 18 months and 6 years. Exposure to traffic-related pollution is modelled. At inclusion, some information concerning refusals is gathered in order to describe sociodemographic features of participating families as compared with eligible children. 4115 (63%) out of the 6493 eligible infants are now participating in this study. Participation rate is higher in parents with a high SES (socioeconomic status), for French and European parents, and for > or =25-year-old mothers, but decreases with sibship size. Similar determinants are associated with the distribution of reasons for non-participation. The participation rate in the Paris study is comparable with other similar studies. Finally, giving detailed explanation of the study aims at inclusion, establishing regular mailed and phoned contacts with families, offering free complete medical examinations for the participant child and re-sent missing questionnaires are very important to improve participation at inclusion and during follow-up.