Birth defects

The leading cause of death under age 1

Each year, over 2,000 babies in Minnesota are born with serious birth defects. Birth defects are the leading cause of death to infants in Minnesota. Babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability than babies without birth defects.

Some birth defects can be prevented

For some birth defects, we know the cause, but the cause of most birth defects is unknown. While we do not know what causes most birth defects, we do know there are steps that can be taken, before and during pregnancy, by mothers and communities in support of mothers, to support a pregnancy and to reduce the risk of birth defects.

Increase your chance of having a healthy baby

Not all birth defects can be prevented, but some can. To help prevent birth defects:

  • People capable of becoming pregnant should take 400mcg of folic acid every day, from when menstruation begins through menopause.
  • Don't drink alcohol, smoke, or use illegal drugs.
  • See a health care professional regularly and get prenatal care as soon as possible:
    • Talk about medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and herbal supplements.
    • Talk before stopping any medications that are needed to treat health conditions.
    • Learn how to prevent infections during pregnancy.
    • Get recommended vaccinations.
  • Control any medical conditions before becoming pregnant. Some conditions that increase the risk for birth defects include diabetes and obesity.
  • When family planning, consider age as a factor. Some birth defects are a higher risk based on mother’s age.
  • Avoid harmful workplace exposures. Ask questions about hazards in your workplace and learn how to avoid bringing hazards home on your skin, clothes, and shoes.
  • Know your family medical history, potential genetic risks, and seek reproductive genetic counseling if appropriate.

What is being done about birth defects?

  • The MDH Birth Defects Monitoring and Analysis Program gathers data about babies born each year with specific health conditions diagnosed within the first year of life into the Minnesota Birth Defects Information System (BDIS). The BDIS was established at MDH in 2005. Information is collected on about sixty conditions. Prior to 2013 information was collected for only Hennepin and Ramsey residents, but starting in 2013 data has been collected for all of Minnesota.
  • The MDH Children and Youth with Special Health Needs (MCYSHN) Program ensures appropriate public health resources are provided to the families of children with special needs. Families contacting MCYSHN receive advice on available and appropriate public health services and referrals to agencies/programs.
  • The CDC National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities works to identify causes of birth defects, find opportunities to prevent them, and improve the health of those living with birth defects.
  • The National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN) is a group of individuals working at the national, state, and local levels, who are involved in tracking, researching, and preventing birth defects.