Research and Tracking of Birth Defects

Accurately tracking birth defects and analyzing the collected data is a first step in preventing birth defects. CDC uses tracking and research to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects. Understanding the potential causes of birth defects can lead to recommendations, policies, and services to help prevent them.

Importance of Tracking and Research

  • Tracking: Birth defects tracking systems identify babies born with birth defects and collect information to learn more about these conditions. Many states have birth defects tracking systems, which are vital to help us find out where and when birth defects occur and who they affect.
  • Research: We base our research on what we learn from tracking. By analyzing the collected data, we can identify factors that increase or decrease the risk of birth defects and identify community or environmental concerns or other factors such as use of specific medications that need more.

Notable Research Findings

We know what causes some birth defects, such as Down syndrome and fetal alcohol syndrome. However, for many birth defects, the causes are unknown. Also, we don’t fully understand how certain factors might work together to cause birth defects. While there is still more work to do, we have learned a lot about birth defects through past research.

For example:

  • Getting enough folic acid, a B vitamin, at least one month before getting pregnant and during early pregnancy lowers the risk of having a baby with serious birth defects of the brain and spine (neural tube defects). For this reason, all women who can become pregnant should be sure to get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day.
  • Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause the baby to be born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs). Pregnant women should not drink alcohol any time during pregnancy. Women also should not drink alcohol if they are trying to get pregnant or if they are sexually active and do not use effective birth control.
  • Smoking in the month before getting pregnant and throughout pregnancy increases the chance of premature birth, certain birth defects (such as cleft lip, cleft palate, or both), and infant death. Quitting smoking before getting pregnant is best. However, for women who are already pregnant, quitting as early as possible can still help protect against some health problems for the mother and baby.
  • Women who are obese when they get pregnant have a higher risk of having a baby with serious birth defects of the brain and spine (neural tube defects), some heart defects, and other birth defects.
  • Poor control of diabetes in pregnant women increases the chance for birth defects and might cause serious complications for the mother, too. If a woman with diabetes keeps her blood sugar well-controlled before and during pregnancy, she can reduce the chance of having a baby with birth defects.
  • Taking certain medications during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects, but the safety of many of the medications taken by pregnant women has been difficult to determine. If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, you should not stop taking medications you need or begin taking new medications without first talking with your doctor. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medications and dietary or herbal products.


Types of Birth Defects Diagnosis of Birth Defects
Causes of Birth Defects Prevention of Birth Defects
Why are Birth Defects a concern















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