Immunologic "immaturity" is often blamed for the increased susceptibility of newborn humans to infection, but the precise mechanisms and details of immunologic development remain somewhat obscure. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) and cytomegalovirus (CMV) are two of the more common severe infectious agents of the fetal and newborn periods. HSV infection in the newborn most commonly occurs after exposure to the virus during delivery, and can lead to a spectrum of clinical disease ranging from isolated skin-eye-mucous membrane infection to severe disseminated multiorgan disease, often including encephalitis. In contrast to HSV, clinically severe CMV infections early in life are usually acquired during the intrauterine period. These infections can result in a range of clinical disease, including hearing loss and neurodevelopmental delay. However, term newborns infected with CMV after delivery are generally asymptomatic, and older children and adults often acquire infection with HSV or CMV with either no or mild clinical symptoms. The reasons for these widely variable clinical presentations are not completely understood, but likely relate to developmental differences in immune responses.This review summarizes recent human and animal studies of the immunologic response of the fetus and newborn to these two infections, in comparison to the responses of older children and adults. The immunologic defense of the newborn against each virus is considered under the broader categories of (i) the placental barrier to infection, (ii) skin and mucosal barriers (including antimicrobial peptides), (iii) innate responses, (iv) humoral responses, and (v) cellular responses. A specific focus is made on recent studies of innate and cellular immunity to HSV and CMV.