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Dr. Alan Guttmacher

Director's Update

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month

One in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect, so chances are, you or someone you know has been affected by one. The term encompasses an assortment of health conditions, from clubfoot and cleft palate to Fragile X and phenylketonuria, among a host of others. All of these vary in their causes, severity, and treatments.

I’m proud of the research we support on birth defects, but do think that the phrase itself isn’t ideal. “Birth defects” was originally coined as a technical, descriptive term. No human being should ever be described as defective. We all have health problems, and none of us is “undefectively” formed.

Personally, I think it’s more useful, and less pejorative, to think about the concept of “variation,” rather than “defect.”  Partly because a “defect” in one person’s eyes may be an asset in another’s. But until there’s another term as readily understood, I suppose we are largely stuck with “defect.”

Regardless of terminology, this month we call attention to birth defects to spread the word about their prevalence and effective prevention strategies. I invite you to learn more about the topic on our website and the CDC’s. Both of our organizations are committed to identifying the causes of birth defects, finding opportunities to prevent them, and improving the health of those living with them.

If you would like to join us in promoting birth defects awareness and prevention, the National Birth Defects Prevention Network has plenty of additional resource materialsExternal Web Site Policy to help.

Last Updated Date: 01/07/2015
Last Reviewed Date: 01/07/2015

About the Director

Alan Guttmacher, M.D., assumed the duties of NICHD Acting Director on December 1, 2009. A pediatrician and medical geneticist, Dr. Guttmacher came to the NIH in 1999 to work at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), where he served in a number of roles, including Deputy Director from 2002 to 2010, and Acting Director from 2008 to November 30, 2009.

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