National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS)
The NBDPS is one of the largest studies on birth defects ever undertaken in the United States. This study has made key contributions toward understanding the causes of birth defects and identifying potential risks for having a baby with a birth defect. Learn more about the study.
The NBDPS is one of the largest studies on the causes of birth defects in the United States. NBDPS researchers study information from babies born between 1997 and 2011. Mothers of more than 30,000 babies with birth defects and 10,000 babies without birth defects took part in this study. Interviewing mothers of babies in the study stopped in March 2013, but researchers will continue to analyze this rich source of information on birth defects.
NBDPS has made key contributions toward understanding the risk of having a baby with a birth defect when specific medications are used just before and during pregnancy. Data from NBDPS have demonstrated that mothers who are obese have a much higher risk for having a baby with a number of different major birth defects. The study has also confirmed results from previous studies that found that women who smoke cigarettes during pregnancy have a higher risk of having a baby with a cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. Understanding the risks and causes of birth defects can help us prevent them. This study provides important clues to help us in our journey to ensure that every child is born in the best possible health.
Notable NBDPS Findings
To date, more than 150 scientific papers have been published using data from NBDPS. Some examples of important findings:
- Antibiotics – Antibiotics are often needed during pregnancy to treat infections. In NBDPS data, the antibiotics most frequently used by pregnant women are cephalosporins (e.g. Keflex), penicillins, and erythromycins. Generally, women who used these medications were not at greater risk for most birth defects. However, women should talk to their doctors about which antibiotics are effective for treatment and safest to use during pregnancy.
- Antidepressant Medications – The most frequently used class of antidepressant medications are Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). NBDPS researchers investigated whether or not there was a relationship between SSRI use during early pregnancy and risk for certain birth defects. Use of SSRIs during pregnancy did not appear to increase the risk for most birth defects, although they were linked to a higher risk for three birth defects: anencephaly, craniosynostosis, and omphalocele, but the increased risks were small. Overall, these results are reassuring, but women should talk with their doctor about the best options for management of their depression during pregnancy.
- Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) – Findings from research using NBDPS data suggest that some birth defects occur more often among infants conceived through ART, but the data are still limited since many couples who use ART have other characteristics that increase the risk of having a baby with a birth defect (such as older age and multiple births as a result of fertility treatments). More research is needed, and those considering ART should be informed of all potential risks and benefits.
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- Diet Quality – Although individual nutrients (e.g. dietary folate) have been studied extensively for their link to birth defects risk, NBDPS researchers studied whether better overall diet quality in the mother is associated with a reduced risk for some birth defects. Results showed that healthier diet patterns in the year before pregnancy appeared to reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects of the brain and spine, known as neural tube defects (anencephaly and spina bifida), or a baby with cleft lip with or without cleft palate. Women should try to maintain a healthy balanced diet before and during pregnancy.
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- Prescription Pain Medications – NBDPS researchers found that the most commonly reported prescription pain medications (also known as opioids) used during pregnancy were codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and meperidine. These results confirmed another study’s earlier findings that women who used prescription pain medication early in pregnancy had higher risks of having babies with certain types of birth defects, including congenital heart defects, which are significant contributors to infant health problems and death in the first year of life. It is important that healthcare providers discuss the potential risks and benefits of these medications with women who are or may become pregnant. [Read summary ]
- Thyroid Disease – Several studies have suggested that women with Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) have a higher risk of having a baby with craniosynostosis, and data from the NBDPS analysis provides strong evidence supporting this increased risk. The NBDPS results emphasize the importance of identifying women with active thyroid disease or a history of thyroid disease so that appropriate monitoring and optimal treatment can be provided during pregnancy.
[Read summary ]
Learn about the NBDPS from families who have been affected by birth defects, researchers, and doctors.
- Page last reviewed: October 9, 2014
- Page last updated: October 9, 2014
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