What are the leading causes of newborn mortality?

Complications arising from prematurity and childbirth as well as severe infections are the top three causes of newborn death. While major strides have been made in reducing under-5 mortality rates, there has been slower progress in reducing newborn mortality/deaths. For example, in 1990 neonatal deaths represented 40 percent of global under-5 deaths, compared with 47 percent in 2020. In 2015, of the estimated 5.9 million under-5 deaths, almost 1 million occurred in the first day and nearly 2 million during the first week. Also, an estimated 2 million babies are stillborn each year. The majority of these deaths and stillbirths occur in low-resource settings, and most are preventable with proven and effective interventions.

All data on this page represents the most recent data available (as of May 2022). Please visit our Newborn Numbers page and download the Excel spreadsheet to explore the data further.

Preterm birth complications

Complications from preterm birth (before 37 weeks) result in 36 percent of neonatal deaths. Preterm birth is also the leading cause of under-5 deaths.

Complications during childbirth

Intrapartum-related complications are the cause of 24 percent of neonatal deaths. In addition, the majority of the world’s 295,000 annual maternal deaths and 40% of the total global stillbirths occur during childbirth.

Severe infections

Severe bacterial infections – pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria, and sepsis – cause 17 percent of neonatal deaths. Recent analyses estimate that approximately 400,000 newborns die each year as a result of severe infections.