1250 Broadway, 27th Floor New York, NY 10001


cdc_logo_nyreblog_com_.pngBirth Defects Were Top Cause of Infant Death in Most Recent Data Release

Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects associated with risks, including diabetes, and other poor outcomes, such as miscarriage or stillbirth. 

National Birth Defects Prevention Month

The top 10 causes of infant deaths in 2006 were birth defects (5,819); low birth weight and prematurity (4,841); SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] (2,323); maternal complications (1,683); accidents/unintentional injuries (1,147); complications of placenta, cord, and membranes (1,140); respiratory distress of newborn (825); bacterial sepsis of newborn (807); neonatal hemorrhage (618); and diseases of the circulatory system (543) ( 1 ).

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects affect approximately one in 33 newborns and are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States ( 1, 2 ). Lifetime care for all infants born in a single year with one or more of 17 severe birth defects has been estimated at $6 billion ( 3 ).

This year's prevention month focuses on diabetes and birth defects. Diabetes is often diagnosed in women during their childbearing years and can affect the health of both the mother and her unborn child. Poor control of diabetes in a woman who is pregnant increases the chances for birth defects and other problems for the baby ( 4 ). Proper healthcare before and during pregnancy can help prevent birth defects associated with risks, including diabetes, and other poor outcomes, such as miscarriage or stillbirth.

What Is CDC Doing about Birth Defects?

Tracking birth defects: CDC believes that it is important to have a system to track birth defects to see when and where they happen. CDC uses different systems to look for changes and then tells the public about these trends. We base our research studies, for example causes of certain birth defects, on what we learn from tracking. In addition, our systems guide how we plan and evaluate ways to prevent birth defects. Learn more about tracking birth defects.

Researching birth defects: Most birth defects are thought to be caused by a complex mix of factors. These factors include our genes, our behaviors, and things in the environment. For some birth defects, we know the cause. But for most, we don't. And we don't understand well how factors work together to cause birth defects. Research helps us answer many of these questions. CDC has been doing research in this field for over 40 years. And we have funded other scientists to do research in the US and abroad. Learn more about birth defects research.

Preventing birth defects: Although we do not know the cause of most birth defects, the good news is that we know how to prevent some birth defects. CDC is working to find out how to prevent others. Scientists study data gathered from our birth defects monitoring systems to learn more. Currently, CDC's birth defects prevention efforts focus on folic acid use and alcohol abstinence before and during pregnancy.  But, research suggests that many other important health behaviors may play a role in birth defects prevention. Learn more about our efforts to prevent birth defects.


  1. Heron MP, Hoyert DL, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD, Tejada-Vera B. Deaths: Final data for 2006. National vital statistics reports; vol 57 no 14. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2009 .
  2. CDC. Update on Overall Prevalence of Major Birth Defects --- Atlanta, Georgia, 1978--2005. MMWR 2008; 57 (01): 1-5 .
  3. CDC. Economic costs of birth defects and cerebral palsy---United States, 1992. MMWR 1995;44:694--9.
  4. Correa A, Gilboa SM, Besser LM, Botto LD, Moore CA, Hobbs CA, Cleves MA, Riehle-Colarusso TJ, Waller DK, Reece EA and the National Birth Defects Prevention Study.  Diabetes mellitus and birth defects. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2008;199:237.e1-237.e9.