Abstract Human pregnancy is unusual with respect to monthly spontaneous decidualisation as well as the degree of placental invasion and interaction with the decidualised endometrial stroma. This review covers in vivo animal models and in vitro cell culture models that have been used to study the earliest stages of human implantation and placentation from nidation to 5 weeks of gestation. The field has expanded rapidly in recent years due to the generation of human embryonic stem cell lines and the ability of some scientists to culture human blastocysts. These models have enabled researchers to begin to elucidate the interactions involved in human blastocyst apposition, adhesion and implantation. However, we still understand very little about the differentiation processes involved in the formation of the placenta. Continued improvements to current models, including the potential isolation of a human trophoblast stem cell, will significantly enhance our ability to define the molecular and structural events occurring during human implantation and early placental development.