Infant Death Due to Heart Defects

Pregnant woman sitting in a chair

In 2019, CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published a study named: “Racial Differences by Gestational Age in Neonatal Deaths Attributable to Congenital Heart Defects — United States, 2003–2006.” You can read the article here. See below for a summary of the findings from this article.

About congenital heart defects and this study

Congenital heart defects are conditions present at birth that can affect the way the heart works. They can cause lifelong disability or death. They are the most common type of birth defect, affecting nearly 40,000 births in the United States each year. They are also the leading cause of infant death due to birth defects. Infant death due to birth defects is highest during the first 27 days of life (also called the neonatal period).
This CDC study looked at the rate of death among babies younger than 28 days old (also called neonatal mortality) due to congenital heart defects by the mother’s race and whether the baby was born preterm. Babies born before 37 weeks in pregnancy are considered preterm. Babies born at 37 weeks or later in pregnancy are considered term. For this study, researchers looked at information from birth and death certificates for babies born to US residents from 2003-2006.

Important findings from this study

4.2% of all deaths in the first 27 days of life were due to a congenital heart defect.

  • Among infants born preterm, death rates during the first 27 days of life were lower among black infants compared with white infants.
  • Among infants born at term, death rates during the first 27 days of life were higher among black infants compared with white infants.

In order to better understand these differences in infant death during the first 27 days of life due to congenital heart defects, more studies are needed. These studies should focus on differences in reporting the cause of death, differences in the prevalence of congenital heart defects (how common they are) at birth, and differences in prenatal diagnosis of congenital heart defects.

Heart Defects: CDC’s Activities

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works to identify causes of CHDs and ways to prevent them. We do this through:

  1. Surveillance and Disease Tracking:
    1. CDC funds and coordinates the Metropolitan Atlanta Congenital Defects Program (MACDP).  CDC also funds population-based state tracking programs. Birth defects tracking systems are vital to help us find out where and when birth defects occur and whom they affect.
    2. CDC funds projects to track CHDs across the lifespan in order to learn about health issues and needs among all age groups.
    3. CDC, in partnership with March of Dimes, surveyed adults with CHDs to assess their health, social and educational status, and quality of life. The survey is called CH STRONG, Congenital Heart Survey To Recognize Outcomes, Needs, and well-beinG. Read project updates from CH STRONG.
  2. Research: CDC funds the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention, which collaborate on large studies such as the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS) (births 1997-2011) and the Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy exposureS (BD-STEPS) (began with births in 2014). These studies are working to identify factors that put babies at risk for birth defects, including heart defects.
  3. Collaboration:
    1. CDC is assessing states’ needs for help with CCHD screening and reporting of screening results. CDC helps states and hospitals better understand the cost and impact of CCHD screening.   CDC also promotes collaboration between birth defects tracking programs and newborn screening programs to improve understanding of the effectiveness of CCHD screening.
    2. CDC provides technical assistance to the Congenital Heart Public Health Consortium (CHPHC). The CHPHC is a group of organizations uniting resources and efforts in public health activities to prevent congenital heart defects and improve outcomes for affected children and adults. Their website provides resources for families and providers on CHDs.


CDC. Racial Differences by Gestational Age in Neonatal Deaths Attributable to Congenital Heart Defects — United States, 2003–2006. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2010;59(37):1208-1211.