There is ample evidence that environmental factors are involved in the aetiology of type 1 diabetes, but the nature and timing of the interactions are poorly understood. The intrauterine environment is known to play a role in the later development of type 2 diabetes, and this review considers a possible role in type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune type 1 diabetes is rare in those diagnosed before 6 months of age, but endogenous autoantibodies predictive of future type 1 diabetes may be detectable by 6-12 months of age, suggesting that environmental factors may operate before this age in some cases. Indirect evidence of a protective effect for the intrauterine environment comes from the observation that mothers with type 1 diabetes are less likely than affected fathers to transmit diabetes to their offspring, although the precise role (if any) is unclear. The risk of childhood-onset type 1 diabetes increases with maternal age at delivery, and with high birthweight, but these associations are weak and heterogeneous, and these factors are unlikely to be directly causally related to type 1 diabetes. No firm conclusion can be drawn from studies of maternal enteroviral infection or from various nutritional exposures. The birth process itself may play a role, as suggested by the slightly increased risk in children born by Caesarean section; lack of contact with maternal bacteria is one suggested mechanism. In sum, there is circumstantial evidence, but no proof of principle, that maternal or intrauterine conditions may modulate genetic risk of type 1 diabetes. The disease process culminating in type 1 diabetes typically begins in early life, but it is not clear whether the trail begins before or after birth.