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Notice to Readers: National Birth Defects Prevention Month and National Folic Acid Awareness Week

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and January 24--30 is National Folic Acid Awareness Week. Birth defects affect approximately 120,000 (one in 33) newborns in the United States each year; they are the leading cause of infant mortality and contribute substantially to illness and long-term disability. Lifetime costs for those infants born in a single year with one or more of the 17 most clinically important birth defects has been estimated to total $6 billion (1).

Health-care professionals can help prevent birth defects by encouraging women of childbearing age to follow healthy preconceptional and prenatal practices, including taking multivitamins containing folic acid and avoiding alcohol consumption. Taking the B vitamin folic acid before and during early pregnancy can prevent serious birth defects of the spine and brain (i.e., neural tube defects). The rates of such birth defects declined 26% after folic acid was first added to cereal-grain products in 1998. However, approximately 3,000 pregnancies each year in the United States continue to be affected by these defects (2). Similarly, alcohol consumption in pregnancy is widely known as a cause of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, yet some women continue to consume alcohol during pregnancy (3).

Information on CDC activities regarding birth defects is available at Information on Birth Defects Prevention Month is available from the March of Dimes ( and the National Birth Defects Prevention Network ( Information on National Folic Acid Awareness Week is available from the National Council on Folic Acid (


  1. CDC. Economic costs of birth defects and cerebral palsy---United States, 1992. MMWR 1995;44:694--9.
  2. CDC. Spina bifida and anencephaly before and after folic acid mandate---United States, 1995--1996 and 1999--2000. MMWR 2004;53:362--5.
  3. CDC. Alcohol consumption among women who are pregnant or who might become pregnant---United States, 2002. MMWR 2004;53: 1178--81.

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Safer, Healthier People

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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This page last reviewed 1/6/2005