The objective of the present study was to investigate the role of early common infections and perinatal characteristics in the aetiology of childhood common leukaemia. A case–control study was conducted from 1995 to 1998 in France, and included 473 incident cases of acute leukaemia (AL) (408 acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), 65 acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) age-, sex- and region-matched with 567 population-based controls. Data on the medical history of the child and his/her environment were collected using self-administered questionnaires. Analyses were conducted using nonconditional logistic regression. A slight negative association with early infections was observed (OR=0.8; 95% CI (0.6–1.0)). The association was stronger for early gastrointestinal infections. Early day-care was found to be associated with a decreased risk of AL (OR=0.6; 95% CI (0.4–0.8) and OR=0.8; 95% CI (0.5–1.2) for day-care starting before age 3 months and between 3 and 6 months, respectively). No association with breast-feeding was observed, irrespective of its duration. A birth order of 4 or more was associated with a significantly increased risk of AL (OR=2.0; 95% CI (1.1–3.7) with ALL). A history of asthma was associated with a decreased risk of ALL (OR 0.5; 95% CI (0.3–0.90). Although the results regarding birth order and breast-feeding do not fit with Greaves' hypothesis, the study supports the hypothesis that early common infections may play a protective role in the aetiology of childhood leukaemia, although this effect was not more marked for common ALL.