Top 5 Things You Should Know About Birth Defects

1. Birth Defects are Common

Birth defects affect 1 in every 33 babies born in the United States each year. That translates into nearly 120,000 U.S. babies affected by birth defects.

2. Birth Defects are Costly

In the United States, birth defects have led to more than one million hospital stays during a single year (2013), resulting in $22.9 billion in hospital costs alone.1 Often, babies born with birth defects need special treatments or services to thrive, adding to the costs of their care. Families, communities, and the government share these costs.

3. Birth Defects are Critical

Birth defects are critical conditions, meaning they can be very serious, even life-threatening. Each year, about 1 in every 5 deaths of babies in the first year of life is caused by birth defects in the United States.2 These conditions are a leading cause of death in the first year of life, causing 1 in every 5 infant deaths. Babies who survive and live with birth defects can have lifelong challenges, such as problems with physical movement, learning, and social interaction.

4. Birth Defects Research is Important

We know what causes some birth defects, such as Down syndrome and Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. However, for many birth defects, the causes are unknown. The Centers for Birth Defects Research and Prevention (CBDRP) are research centers across the nation funded by CDC to understand the causes of birth defects. These Centers have been conducting one of the largest studies of birth defects ever undertaken in the United States, called the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS). The CBDRP will continue to build upon the foundation of birth defects research from the NBDPS and further examine promising findings with the Birth Defects Study to Evaluate Pregnancy exposures (BD-STEPS).

5. Some Birth Defects can be Prevented

Although not all birth defects can be prevented, there are things a woman can do to help reduce her baby’s chances of having a birth defect:

  • Get 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day, starting at least one month before getting pregnant.
  • Don’t drink alcoholsmoke, or use “street” drugs. For example, learn about drug overdose prevention at
  • Talk to a healthcare provider about taking any medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal supplements. Also talk to a doctor before stopping any medications that are needed to treat health conditions.
  • Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy such as Zika.
  • If possible, be sure any medical conditions are under control, before becoming pregnant. Some conditions that increase the risk for birth defects include diabetes and obesity.


  1. Arth AC, Tinker SC, Simeone RM, Ailes EC, Cragan JD, Grosse SD. Inpatient Hospitalization Costs Associated with Birth Defects Among Persons of All Ages — United States, 2013. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:41–46. DOI:
  2. Mathews TJ, MacDorman MF. Infant mortality statistics from the 2013 period linked birth/infant death data set. National vital statistics reports; vol 64 no 9. Hyattsville, MD: National Centers for Health Statistics. 2015.