A birth defect is a problem that occurs when a baby is developing in utero (in the womb). Approximately 1 out of every 33 babies in the States is born with a birth defect.
Birth defects can be minor or severe. They may affect appearance, organ function, or physical or mental development. Most birth defects are present within the first three months of pregnancy, when the organs are still forming. Some birth defects are harmless, while others require long-term medical treatment. Severe birth defects are the leading cause of infant death in the United States, accounting for 20 percent of deaths.

Risk Factors for Birth Defects?

All pregnant women have some risk of delivering a child with a birth defect. Risk increases under any of the following conditions:

  • Family history of birth defects or other genetic disorders
  • Drug use, alcohol consumption, or smoking during pregnancy
  • Advanced maternal age of 35 years or older
  • Inadequate prenatal care
  • Untreated viral or bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections
  • Use of certain high-risk medications such as isotretinoin and lithium
  • Women with pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, are also at a higher risk for having a child with a birth defect.

Common Birth Defects

There are more than 4,000 types of known birth defects. They’re typically classified as structural or functional/developmental. Structural defects are when a specific body part is missing or malformed. The most common structural defects are:

  • Heart defects
  • Cleft lip or palate (when there’s an opening or split in the lip or roof of the mouth)
  • Spina bifida (when the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly)
  • Clubfoot (when the foot points inward instead of forward)
  • Functional or developmental birth defects cause a body part or system to not work properly. These often cause disabilities of intelligence or development.
  • Functional or developmental birth defects include metabolic defects, sensory problems, and nervous system problems. Metabolic defects cause problems with the baby’s body chemistry.