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What are the most common birth defects?


Updated September 10, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What are the most common birth defects?
Answer: Most pregnant women worry about birth defects. The older a woman is at the time of pregnancy, the more likely she is to have certain birth defects. The most common birth defects are:

The March of Dimes says that congenital heart disease occurs about 1 in every 125 or 150 births. 1 in 700 live births will see an anomaly of the lip or palate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) the rates of Down Syndrome are about 1 in 1000 births for moms who are under 30 and 1 in 105 births for moms who are 40.

Prenatal testing for birth defects can be done in numerous ways. A mother may choose to have a screening for Down Syndrome using the Nuchal Fold Screening via ultrasound, done between weeks 9-13 of pregnancy. She may also choose to have genetic test (more reliable, but more invasive and riskier) via amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS). Ultrasounds done later in pregnancy to screen for cleft lip and/or cleft palate.

Congenital heart disease screening can involve an ultrasound, a level II ultrasound and potentially a fetal echocardigram. After birth, you can have your baby screened with similar tests, a physical exam and a pulse oximeter.


Canfield et al, "Improved National Prevalence Estimates for 18 Selected Major Birth Defects-United States, 1999-2001," MMWR, January 6, 2006; 54 (51&52); p. 1301-1305

March of Dimes. Congenital Heart Defects. May 2008.

March of Dimes. Cleft Lip and Cleft Palate. February 2007.

Cleft Palate Foundation. For the Parents of Newborn Babies with Cleft Lip/Cleft Palate.


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