Causes of baby death

There’s a wide range of reasons why babies die. This section focusses on the medical causes of death for babies and covers some of the information that is present in post-mortem reports. Causes of stillbirths (death before birth) and deaths of newborn babies (neonatal deaths) are looked at separately as different problems are more common in each group.


Many people think that stillbirths happen because of a developmental or genetic problem that means the baby could not survive. In fact, this is the case for fewer than one in ten stillborn babies.  For one third of stillborn babies, the cause of death is not known. For another third, the cause of death is attributed to problems with the placenta. 

Neonatal deaths

More than 40% of neonatal deaths are linked to prematurity or low birthweight, both of which increase the likelihood of serious health problems, including lung and gut conditions. Another third of neonatal deaths are caused by genetic conditions present from birth. 


More information

These charts show the causes for death attributed to stillbirths and neonatal deaths for the time period 2016-2020. 

The MBRRACE-UK data only includes stillbirths and neonatal deaths at 24 weeks gestation or later, therefore these figures for causes of death do not include earlier stillbirths and neonatal deaths. The causes of death shown on the charts are explained below. 


Other causes of stillbirth and neonatal death

  • Infection - this refers to deaths caused by infections that directly affect the mother, baby, or the environment within the womb, for example Group B Strep
  • Intrapartum - this includes deaths that happen during or shortly after birth due to complications or issues that arise during labour, such as when the baby does not receive enough oxygen during birth (birth asphyxia)
  • Congenital anomaly - this includes genetic anomalies present before birth, such as congenital heart defects
  • Fetal - this includes deaths caused by any condition or event affecting the unborn baby, except for congenital anomalies, such as the baby being smaller than expected in the womb 
  • Cord - this refers to deaths caused by problems with the umbilical cord, such as the cord wrapping around the baby's neck 
  • Maternal - this refers to health conditions in the mother that existed before pregnancy, were made worse by pregnancy, or arose because of pregnancy, for example pre-eclampsia 
Exit Site