Birth Defects

Hands holding a baby's feetBirth defects are physical or developmental conditions that affect about 1 in 33 babies born in the U.S. each year, and thousands of Michigan children. Most birth defects happen in the first 3 months of pregnancy when the tissues and organs of the baby are forming, but some happen later in pregnancy. Some birth defects can be life threatening. go to the data button

Babies with birth defects are also more likely to be born preterm (before the 37th week of pregnancy). These babies also have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability. They often require special medical care in order to survive and thrive.

Most birth defects are found within the first year. Some, such as a cleft lip, are easy to see. Others, like heart defects, are found using special tests.

Birth Defect Risk Factors

The exact causes of birth defects are often unknown. However, some can be a result of genetics, lifestyle choices and behaviors, certain medicines and chemicals, infections during pregnancy, or a combination of these.

Risk factors known to increase the chance of having a baby with a birth defect include:

  • A family history of birth defects or other genetic disorder
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking “street” drugs during pregnancy
  • Lack of prenatal care
  • Certain medical conditions, such as being obese or having uncontrolled diabetes before and during pregnancy
  • Untreated viral or bacterial infections, including sexually transmitted infections
  • Taking certain high-risk medications including Accutane®, a drug used to treat severe acne
  • Being in your teens or over 35 years of age
  • Coming into contact with some harmful chemicals

To learn more about your risk of having a baby with a birth defect, talk to your doctor or a genetic counselor. You can also find genetic services through the Michigan Association of Genetic Counseling or by searching the Michigan Genetics Resource Center directory.

Make a PACT for Prevention of Birth Defects

It is very important to be as healthy as possible before and during your pregnancy. This helps lower the chance of birth defects, premature birth, low birth weight, and other poor birth outcomes. All women are encouraged to make a PACT for their own health and the family they may have one day.

Plan Ahead

  • Take one multivitamin every day that lists 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid or folate on the label.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Wait at least 18 months after having a baby before starting another pregnancy.
  • Practice safe sex by using condoms to help protect against sexually transmitted infrctions (STIs).

Avoid Harming Yourself and Your Baby

  • Avoid smoking and second-hand smoke.
  • Be alcohol free.
  • Be "street drug" free.

Choose a Healthy Lifestyle

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes fruit, vegetables, whoe grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
  • Eat fully cooked meat.
  • Avoid mercury and other chemicals in fish.
  • Wash your hands often to reduce the spread of infection.
  • Avoid using harmful household and work-related substances including pesticides, lead, mercury, and other chemicals.
  • During your pregnancy:
    • Avoid using hot tubs and saunas.
    • Avoid handling soiled cat litter.
    • Avoid handling mice, rats, hamsters, and guinea pigs.

Talk to Your Doctor

  • Have regular medical and dental check-ups.
  • Share your and your partner's medical and family medical history with your doctor.
  • Manage health problems like depression, disbetes, seizures, phenylketonuria (PDU), or other ongoing conditions.
  • Ask your doctor if the medications you take, including over-the-counter medications, prescriptions, home remedies, vitamins, and herbal supplements, are safe to take before and during your pregnancy.
  • Don't start of stop taking any type of medication without first talking to your doctor.
  • Keep your immunizations up-to-date to prevent infections like rubella (German measles) which can harm an unborn baby.
  • If you are at risk of domestic violence, find a safe place to live and get emotional support. If you need help, call the National DomesticViolence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Birth Defects Data on the MiEPHT Data Portal

Birth defects data on the data portal include these indicators:​​

The data can tell us:

  • The numbers and rates of birth defects in Michigan by type of birth defect, year, age group, and gender.
  • If birth defects rates are going up or down over time.
  • If part of the population is at higher risk of birth defects

However, the birth defects data cannot tell us:

  • What causes birth defects
  • The total the cost, effect, or consequence of birth defects

For more information on birth defects, visit these websites.

Michigan Agencies

MDHHS Michigan Birth Defects Education and Outreach Program

MDHHS Michigan Birth Defects Registry

MDHHS Maternal Child Health Epidemiology Section

Michigan Genetics Resource Center

MDHHS Eat Safe Fish

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Information for Families

Birth Defects Definitions

Diagnosing Birth Defects

Reproductive Health and the Workplace


Mother to Baby

March of Dimes

March of Dimes PeriStats

Tetrology Primer


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