Developing nations in sub-Saharan Africa experience childhood mortality rates that are much higher than any other region of the world. In a rural Malawian community we investigated risk factors for deaths occurring during the neonatal (birth-28 days), postneonatal (29-365 days), infant (birth-365 days), and second-year (366-730 days) periods among a cohort of 3,724 infants monitored from birth. The neonatal mortality rate in this cohort was 48.6 per 1,000 live births (LB); the postneonatal mortality rate was 108.7/1,000 LB. The overall infant mortality rate was 157.3 deaths/1,000 LB and the mortality rate for the first two years of life was 223.7 deaths/1,000 LB. The predominate risk factors for neonatal deaths identified in multivariate analysis were low (hazard ratio [HR] = 2.3) and very low birth weight (HR = 12.7), first pregnancy (HR = 1.8) and maternal syphilis infection (HR = 2.4). Maternal infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (HR = 1.5) predominated for postneonatal deaths. Low (HR = 1.4) and very low (HR = 5.0) birth weight, first pregnancy (HR = 1.6), maternal HIV infection (HR = 2.4), and the combination of low education and low socioeconomic status (SES) of the mother (HR = 2.0) were the most important factors during the infant period. Maternal HIV infection (HR = 3.3) and the combination of low education and low SES of the mother (HR = 2.6) were the predominate risk factors for mortality occurring during the second year. Factors that were significant in univariate analysis but not significant in the final multivariate models included prematurity, previous adverse reproductive outcome, dying during high malaria transmission season, and being born at home. Interventions to prevent maternal HIV infection and low birth weight and treatment of syphilis infection would have a great impact on reducing early childhood deaths. Improving the delivery of health care and education to women during their first pregnancy and to the most socially disadvantaged women may also help reduce the burden of early childhood mortality in communities such as the one studied in Malawi.