Neonatal mortality in the UK

Premature baby holding tip of parent's index finger

In 2017 in the UK, 1,267 babies who were born after 24 weeks’ gestation died in their first 28 days of life.

Overall, neonatal mortality rates have declined since the 1980s. This means that generally fewer babies per 1000 births are dying each year. The graph below shows neonatal mortality rates in England and Wales from 1985 to 2018.

Why do some babies in the UK die soon after birth?

In 2017, 41 per cent of babies who died in their first 28 days of life, died due to complications in the neonatal period; this was the largest cause of death. 36 per cent of babies died due to medical conditions identified in the womb or at birth (congenital anomalies), and 12 per cent of deaths were due to babies being born extremely early.

Factors such as ethnicity, the age of the mother, and the economic situation of the area of birth can also increase the risk of neonatal death:

  • In 2017 more babies born to mothers living in the most deprived areas died in the neonatal period when compared to mothers who lived in less deprived areas.

  • Also, more babies born to mothers aged under 20 and over 40 died, when compared to other age groups.

  • Babies born to Black or Black British parents had a 67 per cent increased risk of neonatal death compared to babies of white ethnicity.

  • Babies born to Asian or Asian British parents had a 72 per cent increased risk of neonatal death compared to babies of white ethnicity.

  • Neonatal mortality rates in babies whose mothers are of white ethnicity have decreased between 2015-2017, whereas babies born to mothers of Asian, Asian British, Black and Black British ethnicity have increased between 2015-2017.

There are several factors which can also further increase the risk of neonatal mortality:

  • Smoking during pregnancy can lead to many complications for the baby. The baby is at higher risk of being born prematurely, of being born with a low birth weight, and also at higher risk of death. In 2017, 19 per cent of mothers of babies who were stillborn or who died in the neonatal period smoked throughout their pregnancy. Read NHS Choices' advice on stopping smoking during pregnancy.
  • Obesity during pregnancy has also been associated with increased neonatal death rates.

Babies who die after 24 weeks of pregnancy, without showing signs of life after birth, are known as stillbirths. You can find out more about stillbirth rates in the UK from the charity Sands.

What are the survival rates for babies born premature?

How early a baby is born has an effect on their chance of survival, and a high proportion of neonatal deaths in the UK are due to complications caused by prematurity.

The following survival rates have been calculated from the number of live births and neonatal deaths (before 28 days after birth) at each gestation (point of pregnancy) in 2017.

It is important to remember that every baby has a unique set of circumstances, and just because a baby is born extremely prematurely does not mean they won’t survive. This should be taken into consideration when reading these survival statistics.

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