National Birth Defects Prevention Month

January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month.  Major birth defects are conditions present at birth that cause structural changes in one or more parts of the body. They can have a serious, adverse effect on health, development, or functional ability.

Birth defects – also known as congenital anomalies – are a leading cause of infant death that account for more than 1 of every 5 infant deaths.  On the topic of infant deaths, the infant mortality rate decreased 3.8% in 2010 from 2009, to a record low of just over 6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.  The neonatal mortality rate decreased 3.1% in 2010 from 2009, and the postneonatal mortality rate decreased 5.4% for the same period.  The infant mortality rate was 2.2 times greater for the black population than for the white population.

A few years back, NCHS posted a trends report entitled Spina Bifida and Anencephalus in the United States from 1991-2006.”  Spina bifida is a major birth defect of a person’s spine and Anencephaly is a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. In 1992, the U.S. Public Health Service recommended that women of childbearing age increase consumption of the vitamin folic acid after it was found that it could help prevent spina bifida and anencephalus. In 1996, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized that all enriched cereal grain products be fortified with folic acid. Using updated birth certificate data available for the U.S. since 1989, NCHS followed a 16-year trend from 1991 to 2006 for the two neural tube defects.

After a significant increase in the spina bifida rate from 1992 to 1995, a significant decline occurred from 1995 to 1999.  The rate continued to decline after 2000, and the 2006 rate was nearly the same as that in 2005 – the lowest ever reported

After a decline in the early part of the decade, the anencephalus rate was stable during the mid-1990s (1994–1997).  The rate was also stable, but generally lower than in earlier years, during 1998–2002 . The rate for 2003–2006 was higher than for the 1998–2002 period.

For more information on birth defects, please click here.

For more information on how folic acid helps prevent neural tube defects click here.

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