Preterm delivery is the leading cause of perinatal mortality and morbidity. Current tocolytics target myometrial contractions, a late step in the labor cascade. Identifying earlier events in parturition may lead to more effective therapeutic strategies. We hypothesized that inflammatory events in decidua (the maternal-fetal interface), characterized by leucocyte infiltration, are an early event during term and preterm labor (PTL). Leucocyte abundance in decidua of human pregnancies was quantified following term labor and PTL (idiopathic and infection associated), in conjunction with investigation of temporal inflammatory events in rat uterus during the perilabor period and in PTL induced by mifepristone. In human decidua, macrophage numbers were 4-fold higher in term labor (P < 0.01) and 2.5-fold higher in non-infection-associated PTL (P < 0.05) than in term nonlaboring samples. Neutrophil abundance was unchanged with labor but elevated in PTL with infection (5- to 53-fold increase; P < 0.01). T and NK cells were more abundant in idiopathic PTL than TL (P < 0.05). In rat, decidual macrophage infiltration increased 4.5-fold 12 h prior to labor and remained elevated during labor and early postpartum (P < 0.01). Decidual infiltration preceded that of the myometrium and was 4-fold higher (P < 0.01). In rat PTL, decidual macrophage numbers were also elevated (P < 0.01) and exceeded those of the myometrium (P < 0.05). These studies show for the first time that leucocytes infiltrate decidua during labor at term and preterm, supporting a role for leucocyte-derived inflammatory mediators in decidual activation. In the rat, this occurred prior to labor, suggesting it is an early event during parturition and thus a potential target for intervention.