Saving Babies Through Surveillance, Research, and Prevention of Birth Defects and Infant Disorders

A pregnant couple holding each other

Saving Babies

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) is working towards a day when all babies are born with the best health possible.

Birth defects and infant disorders, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome, are common, costly, and critical. Our unique state-based birth defects tracking, public health research, and world-renowned expertise provide a wealth of information used to

  • Identify causes of birth defects and infant disorders;
  • Find opportunities to prevent them; and
  • Improve the health of those living with these conditions.

Together with states, academic centers, healthcare providers, and other partners, we are working towards a day when all babies are born with the best health possible and every child thrives.

Birth Defects Are Critical

Birth defects cause 1 in every 5 deaths during the first year of life

Data for Action

The 2016 Zika virus outbreak highlighted the need to collect high-quality, mother-infant linked surveillance data that track exposures during pregnancy and monitor health outcomes at birth and in early childhood. These data were essential to better understand this emerging threat to mothers and their babies. Collecting real-time, actionable information allows NCBDDD to inform evidence-based clinical guidance, link families to medical and social services, and ensure state, local, and territorial public health agencies are ready and prepared to meet the needs of pregnant women and infants during public health emergencies.

  • Data from NCBDDD’s mother-infant Zika virus surveillance serve as a foundation to inform clinical guidance and travel and prevention recommendations, as demonstrated through Committee Opinions of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and CDC’s travel and clinical guidance related to Zika virus.
  • Surveillance data collected before and during the Zika virus outbreak demonstrated about a 30-fold increase in Zika-associated birth defects among pregnancies with laboratory evidence of confirmed or possible Zika virus infection, compared to a baseline prevalence and demonstrated an increased risk for neurodevelopmental abnormalities associated with congenital Zika virus infection. This led to recommendations for continued monitoring and evaluation of all children with possible Zika virus exposure during pregnancy.
  • The surveillance approach for Zika virus has been adapted to respond to other emerging threats that affect pregnant women and infants, such as congenital syphilis, hepatitis C virus, and neonatal abstinence syndrome.
  • NCBDDD worked with the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists to establish a new standardized case definition for neonatal abstinence syndrome that will be used for state and national surveillance.
Looking to the Future

NCBDDD will continue its work to protect women and babies by tracking birth defects and infant disorders and through public health research. These activities provide knowledge about the factors that might increase or decrease the risk of having a baby with a birth defect or infant disorder. NCBDDD’s work on Zika virus is a reminder of the medical vulnerability of mothers and babies to emerging infections and other health threats, such as the opioid crisis and natural disasters. NCBDDD’s Surveillance of Emerging Threats to Mothers and Babies program will continue to leverage the innovative tracking and monitoring system developed to combat Zika virus, work to understand the full impact of Zika virus on infants and children, and adapt this system to capture data on other emerging threats that may affect mothers and babies. NCBDDD will expand work with states and partners to build upon birth defects surveillance systems and explore more accurate ways of estimating the number of infants diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome, as well as the health needs for these children. NCBDDD also aims to improve our understanding of the spectrum of maternal, infant, and child health outcomes following treatment for opioid use disorder during pregnancy. This effort, known as MATernaL and Infant NetworK to Understand Outcomes Associated with Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder during Pregnancy (MAT-LINK), will establish a surveillance network of clinical sites to collect data towards these aims.

Notable Scientific Publications