Awareness of Birth Defects Across the Lifespan: Adulthood

Illustration of a family at home. Birth defects affect people in each phase of life. Adulthood. Learn more at

Planning for Pregnancy

With every pregnancy, a woman starts out with a 3% chance of having a baby with a birth defect, regardless of underlying health conditions or lifestyle factors. Many women with birth defects and other health conditions have healthy, uneventful pregnancies. However, women with birth defects may be more likely to have a baby with a birth defect. Talking with a genetic counselor can be helpful. People living with birth defects should talk with their healthcare providers, before becoming pregnant, about how a pregnancy might affect them and their baby.

Heart Defects

  • Heart defects are the most common heart problem for pregnant women. Pregnancy can put stress on the heart of women with some types of heart defects. With appropriate medical care and treatment before and during pregnancy, many women with heart defects can have a healthy pregnancy.
  • CDC research shows that fewer than 1 in 4 women with heart defects receives American Heart Association-recommended care before becoming pregnant.
  • CDC research found that, compared to women without heart defects, women with heart defects may have a higher risk for some pregnancy-related issues, such as
    • Anemia (when the number of healthy red blood cells in the body is too low)
    • Hemorrhage (loss of blood)
    • High blood pressure
  • CDC research shows that, compared to nonpregnant women with heart defects, pregnant women with heart defects have more documented health issues, such as
  • CDC research also shows that women with heart defects are more likely to experience stillbirth or deliver their baby too early compared to women without heart defects.
  • The Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium offers resources on preconception counseling for women with a congenital heart defect, planning a healthy pregnancy with a congenital heart defect, and parenting with a congenital heart defect.
  • Women with heart defects who are considering having a baby should talk with their healthcare providers before becoming pregnant to discuss how the pregnancy might affect them or their baby, or both.

Spina Bifida

  • Although spina bifida causes nerve damage that can affect sexual functioning, most people with spina bifida can have children.
  • It is important that teens and adults with spina bifida talk with their healthcare providers about sexuality and sexual functioning, birth control options, and reproductive concerns.
  • The Spina Bifida Association offers resources on fertility, sexuality, and preventive care for people with spina bifida.

Recurrence Prevention

  • CDC research found that women who had a past pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect (birth defect of the brain and spine) have an increased risk for having another pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect. If you’ve had a baby with a neural tube defect, talk with your healthcare provider or a genetic counselor about the chance of having another pregnancy affected by a neural tube defect. They can give you specific prevention steps that you can take.
  • All women of reproductive age should get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid each day, in addition to consuming food with folate from a varied diet, to help prevent neural tube defects. Follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations if you’ve had a past pregnancy affected by neural tube defect. For example, if you have had a previous pregnancy or child affected by spina bifida or anencephaly, your healthcare provider might recommend that you take a higher-than-normal dose of folic acid before and during pregnancy.
  • Learn more about genetics, folic acid, and birth defects prevention on CDC’s website.

Genetics and Family History

Some birth defects, such as Down syndrome, are caused by changes in genes. Having someone in your family with a birth defect increases your own chances of having a baby with a birth defect. To learn more about your genetic risk of having a baby with a birth defect, you can talk with a clinical geneticist or a genetic counselor.

  • Parents with heart defects are more likely to have children with heart defects. A baby born to a family without a close relative with a heart defect has about a 1% chance of having a heart defect. However, this risk is three times higher in a family in which the mother, father, or sibling has a heart defect.
  • Based on your personal and family health history, your healthcare provider can refer you for genetic counseling:
    • Planning for Pregnancy: Genetic counseling before you become pregnant can address concerns about factors that might affect your baby. These include genetic conditions that run in your family or your partner’s family, history of stillbirth, and a previous pregnancy or child affected by a birth defect or genetic condition.
    • During Pregnancy: Genetic counseling while you are pregnant can address certain tests done during your pregnancy. Counseling also gives you a chance to discuss any detected problems or conditions that might affect your baby during infancy or childhood.