BD-STEPS: The Next Frontier in Birth Defects Research

One in every 33 babies in the United States is born with a birth defect. Birth defects are one of the leading causes of death in the first year of life and can affect how a child’s body looks, works, or both. While we know the causes of some birth defects, we do not know what causes most of them. The Birth Defects Study To Evaluate Pregnancy exposureS (BD-STEPS) is the next endeavor for the Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (CBDRP) to understand the causes of birth defects. BD-STEPS will dig deeper into the promising findings of previous research from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS), one of the largest studies of birth defects causes in the United States.

BD-STEPS aims to focus on factors that a woman may be able to change to reduce the chance of her baby being born with a birth defect. Factors that could affect the risk of birth defects include:

  • Diabetes and obesity;
  • Travel and lifestyle;
  • Treatments for long-term health conditions (such as asthma or high blood pressure);
  • Treatments for infertility; and
  • Other medication use during pregnancy

BD-STEPS looks at a large group of women, this means findings will apply to "the average woman" rather than any specific individual. We may uncover risk factors for birth defects (things that raise the risk of birth defects), protective factors (things that lower the chances of having a baby with birth defects), as well as neutral factors (things that neither raise nor lower the risk of birth defects). Understanding the causes of birth defects can help to prevent them.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) funds the CBDRP sites that work together on the study. Participating CBDRP sites are in Arkansas, California, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, and North Carolina. CDC participates as the seventh study site in Georgia. BD-STEPS began interviewing women who had babies born beginning January 2014.

The size and scope of BD-STEPS will provide important clues to help us in our journey to ensure that every child is born with the best health possible.