Neonatal mortality accounts for 40% of under-five child mortality. Evidence-based interventions exist, but attention to implementation is recent. Nationally representative coverage data for these neonatal interventions are limited; therefore proximal measures of progress toward scale would be valuable for tracking change among countries and over time. We describe the process of selecting a set of benchmarks to assess scale up readiness or the degree to which health systems and national programmes are prepared to deliver interventions for newborn survival. A prioritization and consensus-building process was co-ordinated by the Saving Newborn Lives programme of Save the Children, resulting in selection of 27 benchmarks. These benchmarks are categorized into agenda setting (e.g. having a national newborn survival needs assessment); policy formulation (e.g. the national essential drugs list includes injectable antibiotics at primary care level); and policy implementation (e.g. standards for care of sick newborns exist at district hospital level). Benchmark data were collected by in-country stakeholders teams who filled out a standard form and provided evidence to support each benchmark achieved. Results are presented for nine countries at three time points: 2000, 2005 and 2010. By 2010, substantial improvement was documented in all selected countries, with three countries achieving over 75% of the benchmarks and an additional five countries achieving over 50% of the benchmarks. Progress on benchmark achievement was accelerated after 2005. The policy process was similar in all countries, but did not proceed in a linear fashion. These benchmarks are a novel method to assess readiness to scale up, an important construct along the pathway to scale for newborn care. Similar exercises may also be applicable to other global health issues.