BACKGROUND: Despite important implications for the budgets, statistical power and generalisability of research findings, detailed reports of recruitment and retention in randomised controlled trials (RCTs) are rare. The NOURISH RCT evaluated a community-based intervention for first-time mothers that promoted protective infant feeding practices as a primary prevention strategy for childhood obesity. The aim of this paper is to provide a detailed description and evaluation of the recruitment and retention strategies used. METHODS: A two stage recruitment process designed to provide a consecutive sampling framework was used. First- time mothers delivering healthy term infants were initially approached in postnatal wards of the major maternity services in two Australian cities for consent to later contact (Stage 1). When infants were approximately four months old mothers were re-contacted by mail for enrolment (Stage 2), baseline measurements (Time 1) and subsequent random allocation to the intervention or control condition. Outcomes were assessed at infant ages 14 months (Time 2) and 24 months (Time 3). RESULTS: At Stage 1, 86% of eligible mothers were approached and of these women, 76% consented to later contact. At Stage 2, 3% had become ineligible and 76% could be recontacted. Of the latter, 44% consented to full enrolment and were allocated. This represented 21% of mothers screened as eligible at Stage 1. Retention at Time 3 was 78%. Mothers who did not consent or discontinued the study were younger and less likely to have a university education. CONCLUSIONS: The consent and retention rates of our sample of first time mothers are comparable with or better than other similar studies. The recruitment strategy used allowed for detailed information from non-consenters to be collected; thus selection bias could be estimated. Recommendations for future studies include being able to contact participants via mobile phone (particularly text messaging), offering home visits to reduce participant burden and considering the use of financial incentives to support participant retention. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry Number ACTRN12608000056392.