A hand wearing a rubber glove holds a newborn baby’s foot.

About Birth Defects

Birth defects are structural or functional abnormalities present at birth that can cause physical disability, intellectual and developmental disability (IDD), and other health problems.1,2 Some may be fatal, especially if not detected and treated early.

There are two main categories of birth defects: structural birth defects and functional/developmental birth defects. This information focuses on structural birth defects, their causes, their prevention, and their treatment. Functional/developmental birth defects are addressed more completely in the IDDs content.

Some birth defects affect many parts or processes in the body, leading to both structural and functional problems.

Researchers have identified thousands of different birth defects. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth defects are the leading cause of death for infants in the United States during the first year of life.3


  1. World Health Organization. (2016). Congenital anomalies. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs370/en/ [top]
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Facts about birth defects. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects/facts.html
  3. Mathews, T. J., MacDorman, M. F., & Thoma, M. E. (2015). Infant mortality statistics from the 2013 period: Linked birth/infant death data set. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64(9), 1–30. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_09.pdf (PDF - 993 KB) [top]

What are the types of birth defects?

How many people are affected by/at risk for birth defects?

What causes birth defects?

How do health care providers diagnose birth defects?

What are the treatments for birth defects?

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