Understanding how human neonates respond to infection remains incomplete. Here, a system-level investigation of neonatal systemic responses to infection shows a surprisingly strong but unbalanced homeostatic immune response; developing an elevated set-point of myeloid regulatory signalling and sugar-lipid metabolism with concomitant inhibition of lymphoid responses. Innate immune-negative feedback opposes innate immune activation while suppression of T-cell co-stimulation is coincident with selective upregulation of CD85 co-inhibitory pathways. By deriving modules of co-expressed RNAs, we identify a limited set of networks associated with bacterial infection that exhibit high levels of inter-patient variability. Whereas, by integrating immune and metabolic pathways, we infer a patient-invariant 52-gene-classifier that predicts bacterial infection with high accuracy using a new independent patient population. This is further shown to have predictive value in identifying infection in suspected cases with blood culture-negative tests. Our results lay the foundation for future translation of host pathways in advancing diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic strategies for neonatal sepsis.