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Strategic Plan - Birth Defects

Photo of infant
Priority: Preventing major birth defects associated with maternal risks.

What is the Problem?

  • Birth defects are a leading cause of deaths in the first year of life, and can result in lifelong disability.

  • Birth defects have accounted for more than 139,000 hospital stays during a single year, resulting in $2.6 billion in hospital costs. To put this in context, hospitalizations for all types of childhood cancer combined total approximately $1.7 billion each year.

  • Many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant.

What Do We Know?

Prevention of birth defects begins with identifying causes and risk factors. The size and scope of NCBDDD’s National Birth Defects Prevention Study provide the nation with a vast resource to look at possible causes of birth defects. The valuable information we get from the study guides development of effective programs to prevent birth defects.

The study findings include the following preventable risk factors for major birth defects:

  • Diabetes and Obesity: Women who have poor control of diabetes or who are obese prior to and at the time of pregnancy have an increased chance of having a baby with a birth defect.

  • Smoking: Women who smoke during pregnancy have an increased chance of having a baby born with certain birth defects such as cleft lip.

  • Medications: Certain medications a woman takes before or during pregnancy can increase the risk for birth defects. The average number of medications used in pregnancy has increased over time, despite the limited data available on the safety or risk of specific medications.

These issues are particularly important given the significant increase in the number of women of reproductive age who have one or more of these risks factors

What Can We Do?

Now is the time for action. Our greatest strength is our ability to translate findings rapidly into prevention strategies that impact the most people. Because of our recent findings on diabetes, obesity, smoking, and medications, we are poised to develop and implement effective ways to reduce, control, and modify the risks associated with these exposures so that more babies are born healthy.

Birth Defects Website

Learn more about birth defects

Graphic: NCBDDD Strategic Plan 2011-2015NCBDDD Strategic Plan 2011-2015

Learn more about NCBDDD’s strategic plan and priorities.



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Contact Us:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

    1600 Clifton Road
    MS E-87
    Atlanta, GA 30333
  • 800-CDC-INFO
    TTY: (888) 232-6348
  • Contact CDC-INFO The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC-INFO