Pregnant women are daily exposed to a wide selection of foreign substances. Sources are as different as lifestyle factors (smoking, daily care products, alcohol consumption, etc.), maternal medication or occupational/environmental exposures. The placenta provides the link between mother and foetus, and though its main task is to act as a barrier and transport nutrients and oxygen to the foetus, many foreign compounds are transported across the placenta to some degree and may therefore influence the unborn child. Foetal exposures to environmental and medicinal products may have impact on the growth of the foetus (e.g. cigarette smoke) and development of the foetal organs (e.g. methylmercury and thalidomide). The scope of this review is to give insight to the placental anatomy, development and function. Furthermore, the compounds physical properties and the transfer mechanism across the placental barrier are evaluated. In order to determine the actual foetal risk from exposure to a chemical many studies regarding the topic are necessary, including means of transportation, toxicological targets and effects. For this purpose several in vivo and in vitro models including the placental perfusion system are models of choice.