The early stages of life are associated with increased susceptibility to infection, which is in part due to an ineffective immune system. In the context of infection, the immune system must be stimulated to provide efficient protection while avoiding insufficient or excessive activation. Yet, in early life, age-dependent immune regulation at molecular and cellular levels contributes to a reduced immunological fitness in terms of pathogen clearance and response to vaccines. To enable microbial colonization to be tolerated at birth, epigenetic immune cell programming and early life-specific immune regulatory and effector mechanisms ensure that vital functions and organ development are supported and that tissue damage is avoided. Advancement in our understanding of age-related remodelling of immune networks and the consequent tuning of immune responsiveness will open up new possibilities for immune intervention and vaccine strategies that are designed specifically for early life.