Preventing infant health problems

Medical research supported by the March of Dimes is helping improve babies’ chances of being born healthy and staying healthy. Major accomplishments include the development of certain newborn screening tests. Grantees developed the first screens for inborn errors of body chemistry including phenylketonuria (PKU), biotinidase deficiency, congenital adrenal hyperplasia and hyperthyroidism. Today, more than 96 percent of all babies born in America are screened for at least 26 disorders that, without prompt treatment, can result in serious health problems, brain damage or even death.

Maternal health issues

Recipients of research grants also conduct studies on maternal health conditions (such as diabetes and obesity), infections and pregnancy complications that can contribute to a wide range of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including premature birth, reduced birthweight, birth defects, newborn death and various newborn illnesses and childhood health problems. For example, treatments are currently being sought by grantees to prevent mothers from passing dangerous infections, such as toxoplasmosis, cytomegalovirus, and herpes on to their babies during pregnancy or delivery.

Keeping childhood infections at bay

Researchers are also working to improve the treatment of common childhood infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), that can lead to serious complications in healthy children. RSV, which can cause pneumonia, is a leading cause of infant hospitalization in the United States and is most risky in infants and toddlers who were born prematurely or with certain birth defects.

Most common questions

How many disorders should newborns be screened for?

The March of Dimes calls upon all states to adopt the new national standard of screening for at least 30 treatable conditions that are not obvious at birth. Early diagnosis and proper treatment of these disorders can make the difference between lifelong impairment and healthy development. Each year an estimated 6,000 newborns are diagnosed with a treatable metabolic condition and another 12,000 with a hearing impairment.

What birth defects are associated with maternal obesity?

Studies suggest that babies of obese mothers are about twice as likely as women of average weight to have a baby with spina bifida (open spine) or related birth defects. They also may be at slightly increased risk of heart and limb defects. Today about 1 in 4 women of reproductive age are obese. A woman who is obese should discuss her weight with her health care provider before pregnancy and work towards reaching a healthy weight to improve her chances of having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

What is toxoplasmosis?

Toxoplasmosis is a common parasitic infection that often causes no symptoms. About 30 percent of pregnant women who develop toxoplasmosis pass the infection on to their babies, sometimes resulting in vision and learning problems, serious newborn complications and, occasionally, death.Toxoplasmosis during pregnancy also can cause preterm delivery or stillbirth. Pregnant women can reduce their risk of toxoplasmosis by avoiding possible sources of the infection, such as raw or undercooked meats and cat feces. A pregnant woman should ask someone else to change the cat's litter box.

©2013 March of Dimes Foundation. The March of Dimes is a non-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3).