Infant and neonatal mortality

The infant mortality rate is the number of children that die under one year of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. The neonatal mortality rate is the number of children that die under 28 days of age in a given year, per 1,000 live births. These are both common measures of health care quality, but they are also influenced by social, economic and environmental factors.

Conditions relating to premature birth, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, and congenital abnormalities are common causes of infant deaths. The three major causes of neonatal deaths worldwide are infections, premature birth and suffocation.

Measures that reduce poverty and mitigate the impact of poverty on the health of women before and during pregnancy will have a significant impact on the risk of stillbirth and death during infancy. Policies that are directed at improving the health of pregnant women (such as stop smoking services) and early intervention services such as health visiting and midwifery are likely to reduce infant and neonatal mortality rates.

For more information see the recent International comparisons of health and wellbeing in early childhood report.

How has the infant mortality rate in UK countries changed over time?

Overall, between 1995 and 2016 the infant mortality rate decreased in all UK countries. Wales showed the largest decrease in the rate of infant mortality from 6.1 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1995 to 3.1 in 2016. In 2016, Northern Ireland had the highest infant mortality rate of 4.6 deaths per 1,000 live births and Wales had the lowest at 3.1 deaths per 1,000 live births. The infant mortality rate for England decreased steadily between 1996 and 2013, but has since remained at 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Updated April 2018.

How does the UK's infant mortality rate compare internationally?

The infant mortality rate has been decreasing in all OECD countries since 2000. The UK has a relatively high rate of infant mortality compared to other countries with 3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016. The country with the highest rate each year is the United States while Japan, Finland and Sweden have the lowest rates.

One of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals was to reduce child mortality by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. According to this, the UK should have reduced the 1990 infant mortality rate of 7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births to 2.6 by 2015. The UK only managed to reduce its infant mortality rate by one half, so did not meet this target. In 2015, the MDGs were replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals where maternal and child health remains key to Goal 3, "ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages".

Updated July 2018.

How does the UK's neonatal mortality rate compare internationally?

The neonatal mortality rate has been decreasing in most OECD countries since 2000. As with the infant mortality rate, the UK has a relatively high rate of neonatal mortality compared to other countries. In 2016, there were 2.8 neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births in the UK. The United States consistently has one of the highest neonatal mortality rates while Japan, Finland and Sweden have the lowest rates. 

One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births by 2030. The UK has already met this global target, however in 2015 the Department of Health announced a new ambition to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths in England by 2030.

Updated July 2018.

About this data

Note for ONS data:

Figures represent the number of deaths registered in the calendar year. Figures show the country where the death occurred, rather than where the deceased was resident. Rates are calculated using the most up-to-date population estimates when the statistics are published. For Northern Ireland, the infant and neonatal mortality rates represent the rate per 1,000 live births including non Northern Ireland resident births.

For more information about ONS data see Office for National Statistics, Vital Statistics.

Note for OECD data:

Differences between countries in legislation governing registration of births and deaths, and misclassification of stillbirths and neonatal deaths makes it difficult to compare mortality at these very early gestations. Despite the standard WHO definition of a live birth, not all countries calculate their mortality rates based this which makes comparison between countries challenging.

For more information about OECD data and indicators see OECD Health Statistics 2017, Definitions, Sources and Methods.  

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