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Data & Statistics

In the United States

  • About one in every 33 babies (about 3%) is born with a birth defect. [Read article]
  • Birth defects are one of the leading causes of infant deaths, accounting for more than 20% of all infant deaths. [Read article]
  • National estimates for 21 selected major birth defects, 2004–2006 [Read summary]

Birth Defects*

Cases per Births

Estimated Annual
Number of Cases

Adjusted for maternal race/ethnicity**


Central nervous system defects



1 in 4,859


Spina bifida without anencephaly

1 in 2,858



1 in 12,235


Eye defects


1 in 5,349


Cardiovascular defects

Common truncus

1 in 13,876


Transposition of great arteries

1 in 3,333


Tetralogy of Fallot

1 in 2,518


Atrioventricular septal defect

1 in 2,122


Hypoplastic left heart syndrome

1 in 4,344


Orofacial defects

Cleft palate without cleft lip

1 in 1,574


Cleft lip with or without cleft palate

1 in 940


Gastrointestinal defects

Esophageal atresia/tracheoesophageal fistula

1 in 4,608


Rectal and large intestinal atresia/stenosis

1 in 2,138


Musculoskeletal defects

Reduction deformity, upper limbs

1 in 2,869


Reduction deformity, lower limbs

1 in 5,949



1 in 2,229



1 in 5,386


Diaphragmatic hernia

1 in 3,836



Adjusted for maternal age**


Chromosomal anomalies


Trisomy 13

1 in 7,906


Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome)

1 in 691


Trisomy 18

1 in 3,762


*The national estimates data come from 14 birth defects surveillance programs: Arkansas, Arizona, California [8-county Central Valley], Colorado, Georgia [5-county metropolitan Atlanta], Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Utah. The number of live births represented by these 14 programs from 2004–2006 was 4,038,506.
** For this study, researchers took into account maternal age (for Trisomy 13, 21, and 18) and maternal race/ethnicity, which allows state and local programs to use these estimates as a point of reference for comparison with future prevalence estimates. Adjustments are based on the United States live birth population, 2004–2006.

  • Folic acid is a B vitamin that, if taken before and during early pregnancy, can help prevent neural tube defects, which are major birth defects of the baby's brain and spine (Anencephaly and spina bifida). In 1996, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated that by January 1, 1998 all grain products labeled as ‘enriched’, such as breads, cereals, and rice, have folic acid added to them to help reduce the risk of neural tube defects. This is known as folic acid fortification. After folic acid fortification was started, there was a 36% decrease in the prevalence of spina bifida and a 17% decrease in the prevalence of anencephaly. [Read article]


Many birth defects vary by racial or ethnic group. Investigating these differences will help us to understand why some birth defects occur more or less often in certain groups and will lead to future efforts to reduce disparities. [Read summary]

Compared with infants of non-Hispanic white mothers,

Infants of non-Hispanic black or African-American mothers had

Infants of Hispanic mothers had

Higher birth prevalence of these birth defects:

Lower birth prevalence of these birth defects

Higher birth prevalence of these birth defects:

Lower birth prevalence of these birth defects

Tetralogy of Fallot

Lower limb reduction defects

Trisomy 18

Cleft palate

Cleft lip with or without cleft palate

Esophageal atresia or tracheoesophageal fistula


Down syndrome


Spina bifida



Down syndrome

Tetralogy of Fallot

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome

Cleft palate

Esophageal atresia or tracheoesophageal fistula

Highlighted Articles

Key Findings:
Factors associated with Dandy-Walker Malformation (DWM), a rare birth defect of the brain
(Published: May 19, 2015)

Key Findings: 
Survival of children with major birth defects in the United States
(Published: February 10, 2015)

Key Findings:
Racial and Ethnic Differences in the Occurrence of Major Birth Defects
(Published October 21, 2014)

Key Findings: 
Differences in Hospital Costs and Length of Stay Among Children with Down Syndrome
(Published: October 1, 2014)

Living with Down Syndrome
Learn more about Down syndrome and about Keaton, a boy with Down syndrome.
(Published: October 5, 2015)

Talk to your doctor about medication use
Make a PACT to get healthy, physically and mentally, before and during pregnancy to increase your chances of having a healthy baby.
(Published: January 26, 2015)

Choose a Healthy Lifestyle
Get healthy before and during pregnancy
(Published: January 20, 2015)

Birth Defects
How to Avoid Harmful Substances
(Published: January 12, 2015)

Heart Defects Study
Heart defects across the lifespan.
(Published: February 10, 2014)

Birth Defects are Critical
Birth defects can cause lifelong challenges.
(Published: January 27, 2014)

Birth Defects are Costly
Birth defects take a financial and emotional toll on families.
(Published: January 20, 2014)

Birth Defects are Common
Every 4 ½ minutes, a baby is born with a birth defect.
(Published: January 13, 2014)

Pregnant? Don’t Smoke!
Quitting smoking can be hard, but it is one of the best ways a woman can protect herself and her baby's health.
(Published: November 13, 2013)

Newborn Screening: Saving Lives for 50 Years
How much do you know about newborn screening? Take our quiz to find out.
(Published: September 13, 2013)

Birth Defects Quiz
How much do you know about birth defects? Take our quiz to find out.
(Published: January 22, 2013)

Living with a Birth Defect
Read about one family's experience with a birth defect, spina bifida.
(Published: January 15, 2013)