The purpose of this study was to examine care-seeking during fatal infant illnesses in under-resourced South African settings to inform potential strategies for reducing infant mortality. We interviewed 22 caregivers of deceased infants in a rural community and 28 in an urban township. We also interviewed seven local leaders and 12 health providers to ascertain opinions about factors contributing to infant death. Despite the availability of free public health services in these settings, many caregivers utilized multiple sources of care including allopathic, indigenous and home treatments. Urban caregivers reported up to eight points of care while rural caregivers reported up to four points of care. The specific pathways taken and combinations of care varied, but many caregivers used other types of care shortly after presenting at public services, indicating dissatisfaction with the care they received. Many infants died despite caregivers' considerable efforts, pointing to critical deficiencies in the system of care serving these families. Initiatives that aim to improve assessment, management and referral practices by both allopathic and traditional providers (for example, through training and improved collaboration), and caregiver recognition of infant danger signs may reduce the high rate of infant death in these settings. Copyright © 2011 Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.