Improving our understanding of the initiation of labour is a major aim of modern obstetric research, in order to better diagnose and treat pregnant women in which the process occurs abnormally. In particular, increased knowledge will help us identify the mechanisms responsible for preterm labour, the single biggest cause of neonatal morbidity and mortality. Attempts to improve our understanding of the initiation of labour have been restricted by the inaccessibility of gestational tissues to study during pregnancy and at labour, and by the lack of fully informative animal models. However, computer modelling provides an exciting new approach to overcome these restrictions and offers new insights into uterine activation during term and preterm labour. Such models could be used to test hypotheses about drugs to treat or prevent preterm labour. With further development, an effective computer model could be used by healthcare practitioners to develop personalized medicine for patients on a pregnancy-by-pregnancy basis. Very promising work is already underway to build computer models of the physiology of uterine activation and contraction. These models aim to predict changes and patterns in uterine electrical excitation during term labour. There have been far fewer attempts to build computer models of the molecular pathways driving uterine activation and there is certainly scope for further work in this area. The integration of computer models of the physiological and molecular mechanisms that initiate labour will be particularly useful.