Infant Deaths Due to Birth Defects Are Declining, But Differences Between Groups Remain

A mother holding her baby

A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the United States, during 2003-2017, rates of infant deaths due to birth defects declined by 10%. Although these rates have declined overall, not all babies are benefiting equally. This report underscores the need to continue identifying potential risk factors for birth defects, determining how these factors may differ between groups, and finding opportunities to prevent them.

Read the full scientific article.

Main Findings

  • During 2003-2017, rates of death due to birth defects in the first year of life declined by 10% overall.
  • This study found that rates of infant death due to birth defects were 30% higher for babies born to non-Hispanic black mothers compared with babies of non-Hispanic white mothers.
  • Researchers also saw differences in the rates of infant death due to birth defects by gestational age (stage of pregnancy when the baby is delivered).
    • Death among infants born between 32–36 weeks of pregnancy has increased over time.
    • Death among infants born between 39–44 weeks of pregnancy has decreased over time.
  • Improving our ability to prevent birth defects is an important public health issue that could result in saving the lives of thousands of infants each year.

About This Study

Researchers used birth and death records from the National Vital Statistics System to study changes in rates of infant death due to birth defects.

About Birth Defects

Birth defects are structural changes that can affect almost any part of the body, such as the heart, brain, or foot. Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in 33 babies born in the United States.

Our Work

CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) strives to save babies through birth defects prevention and research. NCBDDD uses birth defects tracking and research to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects. Learn how NCBDDD makes a difference.

More Information

Scientific Reference

Almli LM, Ely DM, Ailes EC, Abouk R, Grosse SD, Isenburg JL, Waldron DB, Reefhuis J. Infant Mortality Attributable to Birth Defects — United States, 2003–2017. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69: 25–29.