Birth Defects: Get In the Know

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. In order to increase awareness, the CDC has released a report that highlights statistics and information on birth defects, the leading cause of infant mortality.

In addition to data on birth defects, the report outlines other principal causes of infant deaths such as low birth weight, unintentional injuries, and circulatory system diseases. The report also explains CDC tactics for understanding and preventing birth defects.

In 2006, the top five causes of infant death were birth defects (5,819); followed by premature birth and low birth weight (4,841); Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (2,323); maternal complications (1,683); and accidents/unintentional injuries (1,147). Other leading causes included complications of placenta, cord, and membranes; respiratory distress; bacterial sepsis; hemorrhaging; and circulatory system diseases.

As the leading cause of infant mortality in the United States, birth defects occur in about one in 33 newborns. Birth defects account for an estimated $2.6 billion in annual hospital costs.

This year's focus of National Birth Defects Prevention Month is the use of medication during pregnancy. About two-thirds of pregnant women are on some sort of medication. Scientists are uncertain of the effects of many drugs, although some drugs, such as those used for epilepsy, are known to cause birth defects.

In light of these distressing statistics, the CDC is working on ways to prevent birth defects. In order to do so, the CDC is tracking trends in order to see when and where they occur. These tracking systems help to plan and assess methods to prevent birth defects.

As the causes of many birth defects are unknown, the CDC is conducting and funding research on causal factors such as genes, behavior, and environmental components.

Some causes, however, are known. The CDC offers precautions for women to take before and during pregnancy, including making regular visits to a health professional; taking folic acid daily; avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs at least one month prior to pregnancy; and getting medical conditions such as diabetes under control.

As the risk of birth defects remains high, women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant are encouraged to follow all known precautions in order to have a healthy baby. Becoming aware of the risks of birth defects and receiving proper healthcare prior to and during pregnancy is likely to reduce infant mortality and other poor outcomes.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 27, 2011
Last Updated:
January 28, 2011