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Birth Defects: Leading Cause of Infant Death

In recognition of National Birth Defects Prevention Month, CDC is highlighting data on birth defects as a leading cause of infant mortality.

Chart: The top 10 causes of infant deaths in 2006 were birth defects (5,819); low birth weight and prematurity (4,841); SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] (2,323); maternal complications (1,683); accidents/unintentional injuries (1,147); complications of placenta, cord, and membranes (1,140); respiratory distress of newborn (825); bacterial sepsis of newborn (807); neonatal hemorrhage (618); and diseases of the circulatory system (543).

The top 10 causes of infant deaths in 2006 were birth defects (5,819); low birth weight and prematurity (4,841); SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] (2,323); maternal complications (1,683); accidents/unintentional injuries (1,147); complications of placenta, cord, and membranes (1,140); respiratory distress of newborn (825); bacterial sepsis of newborn (807); neonatal hemorrhage (618); and diseases of the circulatory system (543) (1).

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects affect approximately one in 33 newborns and are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States (1, 2). Birth defects can also have life-long costs. In the United States, birth defects have accounted for over 139,000 hospital stays during a single year, resulting in nearly $2.6 billion in hospital costs alone (3).

This year, National Birth Defects Prevention Month focuses on medication use and pregnancy. Medication use during pregnancy is fairly common. Two-thirds of pregnant women use at least one medication during pregnancy (4,5). Talk with your doctor if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy and are using any medications. Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects and other poor outcomes, such as miscarriage or stillbirth.

What Is CDC Doing about Birth Defects?

Tracking birth defects: CDC believes that it is important to have a system to track birth defects to see when and where they happen. CDC uses different systems to look for changes and then tells the public about these trends. We base our research studies, for example causes of certain birth defects, on what we learn from tracking. In addition, our systems guide how we plan and evaluate ways to prevent birth defects. Learn more about tracking birth defects.

Researching birth defects: Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include our genes, our behaviors, and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don't. And we don't understand all the ways factors work together to cause birth defects. Research helps us answer many of these questions. CDC has been doing research in this field for over 40 years. We have also funded other scientists to do research in the US and abroad. Learn more about birth defects research.

Preventing birth defects: Although we do not know the cause of most birth defects, the good news is that we know how to prevent some birth defects. CDC is working to find out how to prevent others. Scientists study data gathered from our birth defects monitoring systems to learn more. We know there are things a woman can do before and during pregnancy to increase her chance of having a healthy baby: see a health professional regularly, take 400 mcg of folic acid every day—starting at least one month before getting pregnant, don't drink alcohol, smoke, or use illicit drugs, and get medical conditions like diabetes under control before getting pregnant. Research suggests that many other important health behaviors may play a role in birth defects prevention. Learn more about our efforts to prevent birth defects.

References:

  1. Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: Final data for 2006. National vital statistics reports; vol 57 no 14. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009 [PDF - 1.73MB].
  2. CDC. Update on Overall Prevalence of Major Birth Defects --- Atlanta, Georgia, 1978—2005. MMWR 2008; 57 (01): 1-5.
  3. Russo, C. A. (Thomson Medstat) and Elixhauser, A. (AHRQ). Hospitalizations for Birth Defects, 2004. HCUP Statistical Brief #24. January 2007. U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. [PDF - 1.04MB]
  4. Andrade SE, Gurwitz JH, Davis RL, Chan A, Finkelstein JA, Fortman K, et al. Prescription drug use in pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2004; 191:398-407.
  5. Werler MM, Mitchell AA, Hernandez-Diaz S, Honein MA. Use of over-the-counter medications during pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2005;193:771-7.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: January 18, 2011
  • Page last updated: January 19, 2011
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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