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

A pregnant mother doing yoga
Saving Babies

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

Birth defects and infant disorders are common, costly, and critical conditions that can cause lifelong health challenges. They may be the first sign that infectious diseases, environmental, occupational, or nutritional factors, maternal conditions, or substance use can cause serious harm to pregnant people, infants, and children. Our unique surveillance, 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 with these conditions.

Together, with state, territorial, and local health departments, academic centers, healthcare providers, and other partners, we are working toward a day when all babies are born with the best health possible and every child thrives.

Mother holding her happy healthy baby


  • Identified and applied targeted strategies to prevent birth defects and infant disorders by
  • Prepared for, detected, and responded to emerging threats to pregnant people and their infants by
    • Expanding the Surveillance for Emerging Threats to Mothers and BabiesNetwork (SET-NET) to include COVID-19. There are 31 jurisdictions currently conducting surveillance through SET-NET to examine COVID-19, hepatitis C, syphilis, and Zika virus.
    • Informing public health and clinical recommendations for pregnant people. NCBDDD expertise and SET-NET data have been critical in CDC’s efforts to understand the effects of COVID-19 infection during pregnancy on birth and infant outcomes. By establishing that pregnant people with COVID-19 are at an increased risk of severe illness and adverse outcomes, SET-NET demonstrated the need for a strong recommendation for vaccination of pregnant people.
  • Advanced scientific and programmatic activities to address the impact of substance use during pregnancy on maternal and infant health by
    • Expanding surveillance to answer key questions about neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NCBDDD collaborated with the Council on State and Territorial Epidemiologists to support six health departments for surveillance of NAS.
    • Expanding the MATernaL and Infant NetworK (MAT-LINK)to understand outcomes from medicines used to treat opioid use disorder during pregnancy. NCBDDD added three new sites to the MAT-LINK system, bringing the number of sites to seven. In addition to the new locations, all sites will expand data collection of children from 2 years through 6 years of age. This project received support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation’s Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund.
    • Monitoring trends in alcohol use among pregnant people. NCBDDD found that during pregnancy, current drinking and binge drinking increased slightly from 2011 to 2018external icon. These data are important to help reduce alcohol-exposed pregnancies by identifying groups of women at increased risk of having an alcohol-exposed pregnancy and developing prevention programs aimed at reducing risk behaviors and improving pregnancy outcomes.
    • Helping fill gaps in knowledge about opioid prescriptions for women of reproductive age. Opioid prescriptions among insured women aged 15-44 years have decreased over time but remain common. About 1 in 5 women with private insurance and about 1 in 4 women enrolled in Medicaid filled at least one opioid prescriptionexternal icon.

Looking to the Future

NCBDDD’s innovative mother-baby linked surveillance and long history of birth defects and infant disorders surveillance and research give our nation the best chance to protect pregnant people and infants, especially when facing emerging threats. Investments in modernizing and advancing our work enable CDC to continue strengthening a public health network that can rapidly assess the needs of pregnant people and their infants. We will continue addressing the impact of exposures during pregnancy, such as medicines, substance use, and infectious diseases, including COVID-19.

Additionally, we will continue identifying opportunities to prevent specific conditions, including CHDs, NTDs, gastroschisis, NAS, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. We also will work to reduce the impact of these conditions on health outcomes across the lifespan.

Notable Scientific Publications