January is National Birth Defects Awareness Month

January 4, 2022

Every year, leading organizations come together in January to raise awareness about birth defects and the impact these conditions have on families. Check out the information we’ve put together below to learn more about these conditions and what you can do to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.

How common are birth defects?

Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. They may affect how the body looks, works or both. Common birth defects include heart defects, cleft lip and cleft palate, Down syndrome and spina bifida. In the U.S., 1 in 33 babies (more than 120,000 babies) is born with a birth defect each year. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant deaths in the first year of life in the U.S. and the leading cause of death and disability in children across the world.

What causes birth defects?

There are thousands of different birth defects, and about 70% of the causes are unknown. Many birth defects are discovered after the baby leaves the hospital or within the first year of life. According to experts, birth defects are caused by a complex mix of factors including our genes, behaviors and environment. Babies who survive and live with birth defects are at an increased risk for long-term disabilities and lifelong challenges.

Can birth defects be prevented?

Not all birth defects can be prevented but the good news is that there are things you can do to help increase your chances of having a healthy baby. Below are some tips:

  • Make sure get enough folic acid. Take a multivitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day. Folic acid is a B vitamin that can help prevent neural tube defects. These are conditions that affect a baby’s brain and spine. Read more about why folic acid is so important and how to include more of it in your diet.
  • Get regular checkups. Your health before getting pregnant matters. Get a preconception checkup, even if this isn’t your first pregnancy. Make sure you’re up to date on your vaccines, including your flu and COVID-19 vaccines. Fevers, which are common symptoms of the flu and COVID-19, can increase the chances of having a baby with certain birth defects.
  • Keep track of what medicines you are taking. Not all medicine is safe to take during pregnancy and some can even cause birth defects. Don’t stop taking your medicine until you speak to your provider first.
  • Avoid alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and street drugs. These substances increase the risk of having a baby with serious birth defects, like heart defects. Tell your provider if you need help to quit.

Check out these resources for more information about birth defects prevention and to learn how these conditions affect families throughout their life:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — National Birth Defects Awareness Month

March of Dimes— Birth defects