Birth Defects

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Birth defects are common, costly, and critical conditions that affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant mortality, accounting for 20% of all infant deaths. Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors. However, we don’t fully understand how these factors might work together to cause birth defects.

We Track That

The Tracking Network conducts monitoring of twelve birth defects. These defects are monitored as they are potentially linked with suspected environmental risk factors, and because these defects are included in most birth defects monitoring programs. The birth defect data found on the Tracking Network are supplied by health departments funded by the CDC Tracking Program.

Types of Data

The Tracking Network has data for twelve birth defect indicators. For each birth defect indicator, there are two different measures:

  • Average annual number of cases among live births over a 5-year period.
  • Prevalence per 10,000 live births over a 5-year period.

On the Tracking Network, birth defects are reported as prevalence. Prevalence measures the number of birth defects occurring in a population and is the best way to report information about birth defects. This measure can be used to track the number of birth defects within a state. Under advanced options, data on birth defects can be further refined by infant gender, maternal age group, and maternal race/ethnicity.

Birth defect data are available at the county level. However, the Tracking Network does not have data for all states. And for some states, only certain counties have data. In addition, some states have more years of data available than others.

The Tracking Network has data on the following birth defects:

  • Anencephaly
  • Cleft Lip with Cleft Palate
  • Cleft Lip without Cleft Palate
  • Cleft Palate without Cleft Lip
  • Gastroschisis
  • Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome
  • Hypospadias
  • Limb Deficiencies
  • Spina Bifida without Anencephaly
  • Tetralogy of Fallot
  • Transposition of the Great Arteries (Vessels)
  • Trisomy 21 (Down Syndrome)

Learn more about these Birth Defects.

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Data in Action

Tracking data can be used to make comparisons within a state; birth defect data from different states should not be compared. Tracking birth defects in a standard way over time can help us:

  • Evaluate changes in the distribution of birth defects by place and time
  • Evaluate the prevalence of birth defects by maternal age, maternal race/ethnicity, or infant sex
  • Target interventions and activities aimed at preventing birth defects in specific populations and communities
  • Help allocate resources and services for affected babies and families

Read these success stories to learn about the birth defects related work happening in our funded Tracking Programs.

California | Florida

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Page last reviewed: October 21, 2020