Remarkable progress over the last decade has put Bangladesh on track for Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 4 for child survival and achieved a 40% decline in maternal mortality. However, since neonatal deaths make up 57% of under-five mortality in the country, increased scale up and equity in programmes for neonatal survival are critical to sustain progress. We examined change for newborn survival from 2000 to 2010 considering mortality, coverage and funding indicators, as well as contextual factors. The national neonatal mortality rate has undergone an annual decline of 4.0% since 2000, reflecting greater progress than both the regional and global averages, but the mortality reduction for children 1–59 months was double this rate, at 8.6%. Examining policy and programme change, and national and donor funding for health, we identified various factors which contributed to an environment favourable to newborn survival. Locally-generated evidence combined with re-packaged global evidence, notably The Lancet Neonatal Series, has played a role, although pathways between research and policies and programme change are often complex. Several high-profile champions have had major influence. Attention for community initiatives and considerable donor funding also appear to have contributed. There have been some increases in coverage of key interventions, such as skilled attendance at birth and postnatal care, however these are low and reach less than one-third of families. Major reductions in total fertility, some change in gross national income and other contextual factors are likely to also have had an influence in mortality reduction. However, other factors such as socio-economic and geographic inequalities, frequent changes in government and pluralistic implementation structures have provided challenges. As coverage of health services increases, a notable gap remains in quality of facility-based care. Future gains for newborn survival in Bangladesh rest upon increased implementation at scale and greater consistency in content and quality of programmes and services.