Congenital infections with pathogens such as Zika virus, Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, Treponema pallidium, parvovirus, HIV, varicella zoster virus, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus, and Herpesviruses are a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Despite the devastating impact of microbial infections on the developing fetus, relatively little is known about how pathogens associated with congenital disease breach the placental barrier to transit vertically during human pregnancy. In this Review, we focus on transplacental transmission of pathogens during human gestation. We introduce the structure of the human placenta and describe the innate mechanisms by which the placenta restricts microbial access to the intrauterine compartment. Based on current knowledge, we also discuss the potential pathways employed by microorganisms to overcome the placental barrier and prospects for the future.