Better medical care and technology have led to a marked decrease in infant deaths, although those born to young mothers remain at greater risk.

The Office for National Statistics said that 3,191 babies died before they turned one year old in 2009, a record low rate of 4.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. This represents a 60 per cent fall on the figure of 7,899 recorded in 1980 (12 deaths per 1,000 births).

The number of newborns who died within 28 days of birth (neonatal mortality rates) fell by 60 per cent over the past three decades, while the number of babies who died between a month and a year old (postneonatal) fell by 68 per cent.

The Government's independent statistics body said: "Infant mortality rates were lowest among babies of mothers aged 30-34 years (3.9 deaths per 1,000 live births) and highest among mothers aged under 20 years (5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births)."

Andy Cole, the chief executive of Bliss, the special care baby charity, said: "Bliss welcomes these findings, in particular the improvement in infant mortality and neonatal mortality in recent years.

"However, England and Wales has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in Europe and there is still much more to do to reduce the rate further."

Posted by Penny Hosie on 20.3.11 Comment on this article by sending it to: penny.hosie@pavpub.com