The viability of any species requires that the genome is kept stable as it is transmitted from generation to generation by the germ cells. One of the challenges to transgenerational genome stability is the potential mutagenic activity of transposable genetic elements, particularly retrotransposons. There are many different types of retrotransposon in mammalian genomes, and these target different points in germline development to amplify and integrate into new genomic locations. Germ cells, and their pluripotent developmental precursors, have evolved a variety of genome defence mechanisms that suppress retrotransposon activity and maintain genome stability across the generations. Here, we review recent advances in understanding how retrotransposon activity is suppressed in the mammalian germline, how genes involved in germline genome defence mechanisms are regulated, and the consequences of mutating these genome defence genes for the developing germline.