This qualitative and longitudinal study aims at defining a model of early parent-infant relationships in the perinatal period. Eighteen parental couples were interviewed. The resulting model is based on five themes in the parent-infant relationship, i.e. discovery of the infant, physical proximity, emotional closeness, initiation of complementary interactions and personal commitment to the parental role. The article clearly shows the differences between mothers' and fathers' experiences in developing these relationships with their infant. The nurse's assessment of early parent-infant relationships and her interventions are discussed in a second article, p. 32.