About Birth Defects

(Also called congenital malformations or congenital anomalies)

Collecting and sharing good information about when and where birth defects happen is a first step in understanding how they might be related to the environment. Looking at patterns of birth defects rates can help health officials plan services and create ideas for research into environmental causes of birth defects. The New York State Department of Health's Birth Defects Registry (BDR), formerly the Congenital Malformations Registry (CMR), stores data on children with birth defects in New York State.

About one out of every 33 babies is born with a birth defect. Birth defects are the leading cause of infant death and babies with birth defects have a greater chance of illnesses and long-term disabilities than babies without birth defects. Lifetime costs to care for a person with a birth defect can be more than $500,000.

Risk Factors

Doctors and researchers know how certain birth defects occur, but there are a large number of birth defects that are not well understood. Very few birth defects have a definite link to environmental hazards, although possible links have not been well studied. It is likely that most birth defects happen for many reasons, not just one reason.

Known and probable risk factors for birth defects include the following:

  • Smoking, alcohol and other drugs
  • Poor nutrition and/or health (such as low levels of folic acid, obesity and poorly controlled diabetes)
  • Medicines (prescription & over-the-counter)
  • Toxic chemicals & their fumes (such as lead, paint and paint thinner, gasoline, pesticides, and second-hand smoke)
  • Infectious agents (such as rubella and toxoplasmosis)
  • Radiation (X-rays)

Learn more about Birth Defects Research

Prevention for Women Planning to Have Children

  • Have regular medical checkups
  • Eat healthy foods and maintain a healthy weight
  • Make sure that medical conditions like diabetes are under control
  • Take a vitamin with folic acid every day
  • Don't smoke, drink alcohol or use street drugs
  • Check with the health provider before taking any medications
  • Avoid exposure to toxic second-hand smoke, chemicals and fumes
  • Have tests for infectious diseases and get necessary vaccinations
  • Wash hands often to avoid getting sick
  • Avoid changing kitty litter boxes
  • Avoid X-rays and other radiation

Learn more about Healthy Choices to Help Prevent Birth Defects